1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Somerset House, London 4 Oct – 7 Jan 2019, Zeitz Mocaa, Cape Town Waterfront, South Africa, May 2018
Miss Azania 2013, 1400x 1052cm
Ruga came from Mthatha, which used to be the capital of the Transkei, an unkempt dusty town we passed through on our way to the sea each Christmas during the apartheid years. It seems such an unlikely beginning for an artist who is dealing with post-apartheid propaganda and gender politics with an international voice at his first solo exhibition in London.
This exhibition Of Gods, Rainbows and Omissions, included performance, video, photography and tapestry in what Patra calls a “rainbow coloured Queertopia.” He also deals with the dark colonial past of slavery, and the lavishly dressed Miss Azania 2013, African Queen.
With a democratic constitution that protects artists’ freedom, gender issues get more support in South Africa than in neighbouring countries. There has been a big shift in audience profile too, moving away from white upper middle class. These days a bold contemporary African voice is beating a new drum, but this too is controversial.
Jules De Balincourt
BBC Sur L’Herbe, 2013, Oil and acrylic on panel, 121.9 x 86.4 x 5.1 cm
Jules De Balincourt’s figurative painting BBQ Sur L’Herbe, with its use of acidic colours is ‘otherworldly’. Flat areas, stencilling and the grouping of figures helped me to construct my own composition exaggerating the relaxed poses of schoolgirls beside the pool in my painting Vicarious Witness. I was not familiar with his work before and recently found a review of an exhibition he did called Itinerant Ones at Victoria Miro in 2013. His subjects involve escapism and don’t reference a specific time or place in this body of work. The paintings seem to suggest a distraction leisure provides or an escape from a vulnerable, changing landscape. He, like me, is concerned with the physical or psychological threat. I am learning from his approach painting a restless world, considering style in particular, and think this could influence treatment of my subjects’ escape from violence in gated, superficial worlds.
Swimmer from Enclave exhibition series, 2016, Oil on Linen, 300 x 300cm
I came across Jonathan Wateridge’s paintings in Valli and Dessany (2014) A Brush With The Real, Figurative Painting Today. I was thinking about privileged white lives around our pools behind our high walls in South Africa, soft and spoilt, self-involved and artificial, an escape from the political mess of the country.
Zambian born, but lives and works in the UK, Wateridge’s interest in white entitlement questions the role of the colonial past. The languid poses are almost mundane, fleeting moments, tranquil and still on a lazy summer day. He says nothing in life is permanent and this fluid world is often an “unguarded gap” which is more open to the viewer.
His paintings are constructed from sets he builds with models he hires, orchestrated in a controlled fabricated environment. These unreal places have a sense of intangible unease even although the paintings are very still. He mentions the influence of contemporary photography and cinema on his thinking, but also says that his work is not photo-realism. He explains in an on -line interview that the eye records information by “delivering a more edited and variegated perspective than a camera” but admits that David Lynch’s and Michelangelo Antonioni’s films have influenced his approach, as has artist Jeff Wall.
I emailed Wateridge.
On 29 Nov 2018, at 22:14, Squarespace <email@example.com> wrote:
Name: Jacqui Chapman
Email Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
I am a MA Painting student at UAL Wimbledon working on issues of post-apartheid South Africa and the affect it has on suburban lives. I have been looking at the superficial lifestyle of white suburban gated communities, in particular relaxing around a pool, oblivious to the real issues facing the majority of people. I noticed a painting of yours of a woman lying on her own beside a pool. And it felt familiar. Since then I have looked at your work online and have spoken to Mark Fairnington today who I believe you exhibited with at Parafin Gallery in London. I was wondering if you would be interested in meeting up with me to have a conversation about the subject of your work and the process you invest in it to build sets to achieve these virtual environments. I look forward to hearing from you when you have a minute.
Many thanks for your email.
You’re absolutely right, white entitlement is very much a theme in my work over the last three years or so and I would be more than happy to answer any of your queries, although it may be a little difficult for me to meet as I moved up to the middle of nowhere in Norfolk last year! I am in London occasionally for work and the like but in the meantime if you want to send me anything by email I will respond as soon as I can. Alternatively, I’m happy to talk by phone if that’s easier?
Pool, 2016, Oil on linen, 200x 300cm
Jonathan Wateridge and I had a fascinating hour and a half conversation on FaceTime on Wednesday 16 January 2019, which I recorded and transcribed. He sent me about 20 new works as well, a couple are included below.
Thorns, 2018, oil on linen, 150 x 100cm, Lilo, 2018, oil on linen, 225 x 180 cm
Ski Jacket, 1994, oil on two canvasses, Support, right: 2953 x 1604 x 33 mm, Support, left: 2950 x 1900 x 33 mm
I saw this painting, Ski Jacket, at Tate Modern part of the Painting and Mass Media Exhibition a few years ago and it intrigued me. The choice of candy coloured snow was an interesting and unreal representation of a Japanese ski resort. Doig often paints snow because it has a “nostalgic quality that draws you in”. The experience of landscape as a viewer is inclusive, with uncanny atmospheres and a not quite real scene. The Canoe paintings are painted from stills from the film Friday the 13th and seem to have the same serene quality of Wateridge’s pool paintings, with a haunting undercurrent. Doig said this wasn’t a painting about the film. He was more interested in the mood of the image, the depth created by a floating boat and the woman’s pose which makes you ask questions about her. Is she asleep/dead? The strong horizontal composition exaggerates the languid, eerie mood.
Film Still, Friday the 13th (Cunningham 1980) (left)
Canoe Lake, 1997-98, Oil on Canvas (right)
Prescience, 2015, Oil on canvas, 40.5 x 50.5 cm
Considered the Updike of suburban South African, her paintings reflect the ordinariness of superficial white lives in post-apartheid South Africa. I think her anonymous people are handled subtly using a palette that creates an ‘un-still’ mood and the materiality of paint extends implicit politics in her work. Her titles inform her paintings and offer a deeper reading, for example; Prescience means you have a fore knowledge, and within a political context in an unstable violent country, it’s likely that something bad is about to happen. Other paintings include titles like Tired From Smiling and Little Deaths. There was an interesting development in her work in 2007, after her mother died, where she experimented with ash in her paintings. It is an idea I have had too, primarily because of its association with symbolism of wastelands, as Anselm Kiefer’s desolate, burnt landscapes so eloquently portray.
In the Shadows, 2018, Oil on Canvas, 69 x 90 x 5cm, part of a body of work called Greener Grass.
Milk Teeth, 2015, Oil on canvas, 130 x 220 cm
Pollack describes how Gottgens “continually interrogates representation, the mechanics of image making, and the interplay between feeling and the fragmentary visual recollections that drift through the mind”. This painting reminds me of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, and has recently been remade by the BBC. Maybe I should develop this picnic idea as it is a mixture of unsettling dream-like horror and mystery. It is a film that disturbed me for a long time.
Swimming Pool, Maputo 1978 (2012) size unknown
I have looked at painterliness in Gottgens’ style again in Unit 4. She has a light touch that suggests so much more than she describes. Her brushwork is fluid and confident. As a South Africa painter the light in her work burns bright white and the dark shadows are almost black. Her ability to create a sense of unease in the ordinary cameos of privileged white life in her paintings makes them feel intimate and familiar.
I have looked at many paintings to understand skin tone in harsh sunlight, and others that reference painterly skill for their spontaneity, but this one above all others has been on my studio wall and has informed my method.
The spectators of descent, 2017, Oil paint, beeswax, spray paint, sharpies on canvas, 160 x 160 cm
Paintings in the exhibition Limp, 2017, Smith Gallery, Cape Town, demonstrate Elize Vossgater’s interest in similar themes in post-apartheid culture, with a specific focus on expressions of ‘whiteness’. She presents figures in a state of fragmentation, “disassembled whiteness, a whiteness brittle, broken, adrift.”
She describes her figures as ‘non-people people’ which I found interesting as this was what I was trying to achieve visually by creating a negative photographic image of an African domestic worker. Vossgater’s paintings also have a sense of unease about them and she uses titles to reflect a hopeless state of mind in a country struggling with empty promises and doubt. For example; “White Balance: The tension between holding on and letting go.” Jamal suggests that Vossgater is confronting anger and hopelessness in a “bankrupt society, within this aggrieved and violent moment- a moment morally in tatters, we can and must confront our hopelessness.”
Jamal A., (2017) p3/9
Http://www.adjective.online/2017/04/21/non-people-people-ashraf-jamal (Accessed 21/11/2018)
Looking from the outside in, 2016 Oil paint, spray paint, tape on cardboard 147 x 147 cm
Bay of Pigs 1960, 2004, Oil on canvas, 131.5 x 101.3 cm
As the direction of my work takes on a more focussed conceptual development where politics disrupts white ‘Utopia’, collage experiments using black and white political images, often photographed by renowned South African photojournalist, Juhan Kuus, are combined with ethereal images of sanctified ‘white life’ behind the gated walls of suburbia.
To explore this direction I looked at the work of Dextor Dalwood. A famous event or person is often the subject he builds a collage around using styling typical of the date of the event or a fictional private interior. He builds a “dislocated view by reconstructing history through careful cultural observation”, and by using the technique of collage, cutting and tearing, as part of his mark making language. “Dalwood creates a breath-taking pluralism that refracts and collides the memory.” (Lunn 2013 p17)
In Bay of Pigs, the failed US attempt to overthrow the Cuban Government, Dalwood “creates a haunting tropical image somewhere between vacation brochure and Apocalypse Now”. He combines a sliver of Picassos’ upside down Dejeuner Sur L’ Herbe. What is interesting is his pulling together of disparate elements which are connected by date. This puzzle involves the viewer into a mind game, representing famous icons that “shunt out previously held images.”
The interior of Hendrix’s private living space is fictional, unpopulated and suggestive of popular style at the time of his death, yet it feels as intimate as the source material Dalwood collects from popular culture like Hello magazine.
Hendrix Last Basement, 2010, Oil on canvas, 766 x 511cm
Kudzanai –Violet Hwami, Family Portrait, part of her first solo exhibition in London in 2017, If You Keep Going South You’ll Meet Yourself, Tyburn Gallery, London
Zimbabwe artist Kudzanai – Violet Hwami, who was a graduate of Wimbledon College of Arts, explores new ways of painting the famial. Her paintings celebrate a utopian future of Zimbabwe in nostalgic vibrant large-scale paintings which reference socio- political culture. Now living in London she says, “The beauty of being a child of the diaspora is that we are able to reinvent ourselves and what it means to be African.” She has an experimental approach to making her paintings where she integrates her multiple worlds, digitally collaging a combination of images and text. She feels this is the most intuitive part of her process. She will represented Zimbabwe at the 58th Venice Biennale this year.
Kudzanai Chiurai, Genesis VII, 2016
Kudzanai Chiurai, Zimbabwe activist artist, was exile in South Africa to avoid imprisonment for creating a mural that criticised the Zimbabwe government. I saw his work at the new Zeitz MOCAA Gallery in Cape Town last May, affectionately known as ‘Tate Africa’. His paintings often combine image with text, disjointing and isolating parts of the imagery within the composition. Fragmented memory operates more like this, and in a less cohesive way than I am currently painting. His works reflects a time when his country was ravaged by civil war. It’s a different interpretation on colonial heritage to Jonathan Wateridge’s, but he similarly stages his work using African protagonists in place of white colonials, in this work as missionaries and explorers, referring to David Livingstone. In 2017 Chiurai exhibited a 3-part series of work, which is politically charged and quite theatrical. The first was Revelations in (2011) and continued with Genesis (Je n’isi isi) (2016) and We Live in Silence (2017)}. He questions dominant colonial narratives and creates “counter memories” which present an alternate African Utopia in what he calls, “colonial futures”
Obnoxious Liberals, 1982, acrylic and oil paint stick on canvas, 172.5 x 259 cm
In the book The Jean- Michel Basquiat Show, (2006) I found the paintings which had an influence on the 1980’s New York scene helpful to the idea of constructing a painting by sampling different sources. Basquiat’s distinctive painterly language is a unique melange of his African Haitian-Dominican Republic heritage but also includes comics, Beat Literature, history, jazz, hip hop, consumerism and text. The influence using verbal fragments was from Cy Twombly. Basquiat tends to use text in a graffiti style, which gives this “aesthetic a legitimacy but the difference between expression and acts of vandalism are unclear”, Vittorio Sgarbi writes. His is also a historical witness combining elements of mass culture from the Mona Lisa to Jazz but creates a world in which he belongs in a genre unique to this.
Procession is an oeuvre Kentridge often uses, here as a death march in More Sweetly Play the Dance, in an 8 Screen video installation.
In an interview William Kentridge talks about how landscapes conceal acts of violence, the country’s own history, and that this relates to both painting and the processing of memory which inevitably fades, becomes elusive. This is “mirrored by the terrain itself which cannot hold onto the events played out upon it.” (Biro, 1988 p126). He talks about the Sharpeville massacre on 21 March 1960 where 69 people were killed outside a police station near Vereeniging. The name Sharpeville reminds us of images but the place itself gives nothing away. It’s an ordinary police station.
He talks about “Disjunction”. He says “our daily living is made up of a non-stop flow of incomplete, contradictory elements, impulses and sensations” and that it is not the disjunction itself but the “ease in which we accommodate it.” (Biro 1988 p104). I found the ability to pretend that nothing wrong is going on unnerving.
Kentridge has lived and worked in Johannesburg all his life, is outspoken about white amnesia and how whilst South Africa is at the edge of huge social upheavals, it is also removed from them. “This position, neither active participator nor disinterested observer is the starting point and the area of my work.” (Biro, 1988, p104)
Duality is evident in life-style choices, attitudes and complacency by many white South Africans and is supported by overwhelming amnesia, areas of interest in my position as I explore history, memory and apathy.
Lee Krasner, Living Colour, Retrospective, Barbican
Monday, 17 June 2019
Shattered Light, (1954) Oil and paper collage on masonite, 86.4 x 12.9 cm
Lee Krasner’s retrospective Living Colour at the Barbican today, was a display of honesty and determination evident in her self-criticism and courage. Three years after the death of her husband Jackson Pollock, and unhappy with her work, having come through ‘a long grey period’ she describes how she shredded all her drawings, and left her studio. Three days later she returned and found she liked the bits, spread across the floor. They had a new energy, which she developed into collage work. I am interested in the idea of deconstruction and reconstruction and how I might integrate my own previous drawings and paintings on paper with the work I am thinking about, fragmented memory and the burden of history.
Oscar Murillo, Violent Amnesia, Kettles Yard, Cambridge
Thursday, 30 May 2019
The Institute of Reconcilliation, 2014 –ongoing, oil on canvas, burnt corn and clay
Murillo talks about the temporary blurring of boundaries when in flight 37 000 feet about sea level. These ideas are often generated during “flight mode” which is a system Victor Wong who interviews Murillo in the exhibition catalogue, The build-up of content and information, explains as a “system of perpetual motion far from any sense of immediate nativity or singular identity”, a result of globalisation and accelerated socio-political relations. (p31) It’s also a state of “time-space-compression” and this takes form in his multi –layered gathered work, but they often start off as aerial maps layering thought and image akin to early geographers. To me his work is like excavating memory, where his travels are a visual exploration revealing and burying surface.
Murillo’s experience of displacement is at the core of his expressive work. He left Columbia as a boy for the UK. His memories are interwoven in his work, remembering a “black snow” that fell from La Paila’s sugar factory. The materiality of the fabric itself is a metaphor for memory, and forgetting, which he says can never be fully realised or imagined. Suspended, stitched, concealed, excavated, censored, dark, smelly, close up and double sided, the first work encountered is positioned between two galleries, as if in an in-between space.
“The silence and intensity of these works suggest ritual or mourning.” This gives me ideas for curating my work in places that could be marginal or transitional.
(Untitled) law, 2018-2019 (Detail), oil, oil stick, graphite on canvas and velvet
Large paintings on stretched canvas were erased, scribbled out almost, whilst others were heavy patchworks of stitched, multi-layered work, combining screen print, collage, drawing and painting, here showing Swallows, as they are an annual migratory bird.
Many ideas, materials, motifs, techniques and unstructured presentation that I have been considering were reflected in his work about his Columbian past. It made me think about my work that allows for uncertainty and temporality, a sense of belonging to more than one place in the production of Murillo’s ideas.
Caroline Walker, Victoria Miro Gallery
Saturday 27 July, 2019
Pool Views, Oil on linen, 155 x 210cm, 2016
I stumbled upon Caroline Walker’s poolside LA paintings at the beginning of the course and it seems uncanny that I have come full circle, finding her work tantalisingly familiar again. “It is not just a feeling of seeing something private that you shouldn’t have seen, but more the sense that you are seeing it through the eyes of an intruder, of someone with bad intent.” (Huffington Post. 31/07/2013) This is exactly how I have also chosen to make politics implicit in my gated community paintings. Walker talked about creating a visual barrier, using railings, a window, a shop front, to manipulate a sense of intrusion.
At Victoria Miro Gallery there was a walk through and talk in association with The Great Women Artists, founded by curator Katy Hessel. Also exhibiting were Maria Berrio and Flora Yukhnovich.
Wishlist (2019) Oil on Linen, 170 x 220 cm
At this talk, Walker stood in front of her painting depicting the hidden workplace of a migrant women in the beauty industry. She spoke about luxurious service we only glimpse at. Walker offers up a view to unguarded moments of intimate portrayals of private and public spaces in hotels and beauty bars we walk past every day. Disquiet and unease are a recurring mood in her work. I bought her book Picture Window the week before, and in an interview read that her paintings are likened to the ‘French Painters of Modern Life’ in the 1860’s, Manet and Degas especially. More interesting for me was the reference to her work, like Wateridge’s, to be like a film still where the viewer speculates on what preceded or followed.
I spoke to her afterwards and discussed the overlap in my gated community work with her LA paintings. She was very generous. I asked about the ‘juiciness’ of her paint and she told me about her process, her materials, (Shell-Sol T and poppy oil) and the value of small preparation sketches to enable working fast on large scale paintings to keep spontaneity in the marks, allowing just 3-4 days to paint each one. I followed this advice and find my paintings have a new confidence in contemporary mark making. They are not exact replications of life. They embrace paint.