Although isolated and detailed analyses of individual texts and
paintings form the basis of our scholarly engagement with
literature and painting, the simultaneous consideration of text and
image yields a richer appreciation of the multi-facetted work of
writer and painter, Breyten Breytenbach. This book argues that
writing and painting form two manifestations of one and the same
creative force, and should be read as such. His imaginary world
finds expression in the sister arts, linked in western culture
since antiquity: Ut pictura poesis, poetry is like painting. And,
by extension, painting is like poetry. Yet, internationally, the
substantial body of academic analyses of Breyten Breytenbach’s
oeuvre pays scant attention to his painting, limiting our
knowledge. If the lines “the hospitals of Paris are crammed with
pasty people/standing at the windows making threatening
gestures/like the angels in the furnace” will be immediately
recognised by any Breytenbach scholar, a major work like
L’attrape-pigeon, painted in prison in spite of the formal
prohibition on painting, is unknown and would be recognised as a
work by Breytenbach by very few (and the story of how the painting
got to be made in prison, also remains to be told). The Breytenbach
scholar’s musee imaginaire, the museum of works of art that can be
called up by the mind’s eye, is regrettably poor. It is my
conviction that, in engaging with Breytenbach’s oeuvre, his poems,
works of fiction or essays are not more important than his
paintings. This would imply that, in spite of the presence of his
poetry and prose in school and university syllabi, in spite of the
numerous theses on university library bookshelves and in spite of
the growing body of literary criticism, his oeuvre has been only
partially read, precisely because his painterly oeuvre is not taken
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