Mary Corrigall reflects on an exhibition which saw the collaboration of art galleries catering for art graduates
Not all artists blossom in the first years after graduation. In fact, hardly any do and those that soar to fame early on in their careers often struggle to sustain the momentum and fall off the public radar. For this reason, the South African scene is missing spaces and institutions geared for younger artists. Spaces offering some kind of incubation for their talents to be nurtured. Along with the ideological space for them to drive new aesthetics and articulate the issues and ideas particular to their art generation.
Fortunately, such places now exist with the continuously maturing and growing visual art industry. A few newish galleries run by young people offering art for new audiences have popped up. Such as the Joburg based Kalashnikovv and, in Cape Town, the Smith gallery. A gallery which holds regular group exhibitions, presenting a range of expression by a rising group of artists. It made sense, therefore, for these two galleries to join forces at some point. Which they have done with their first collaborative exhibition titled From Whence They Came.
Smith’s Church Street gallery showed this exhibition in June. Abstract art is the mode du jour, so naturally a number of them are working in this mode but not always with paint. This includes some of their forerunners such as Zander Blom or Jaco van Schalkwyk.
Io Makandal is the stand-out Joburg artist working in this way while very quietly infiltrating the scene via group shows. Her abstract drawings are distinctive, though the compositions appear quite random. The quality of the lines vary. Sometimes appearing like doodles and scratches, thus lending her works an unfinished, tentative look. Yet when all these different lines are brought together into a composition, there is something pleasing about them. The chaos makes sense and this is what makes her art so interesting; her ability to very loosely create order from disorder.
The current art generation finds that hand-drawing resonates with them as young artists. Perhaps this is because it has not been as prized as painting and doesn’t carry the same art historical baggage. It also allows the artist to express a sense of tentativeness and awkwardness that isn’t typically permitted in art. Providing, as Makandal’s art demonstrates, a space to be uncertain and not just express uncertainty. Jeanne Hoffman uses loose hand-drawings to relay complexities related to her experience of travelling and living in Cape Town and Holland. She connects these to historical journeys during the colonial era. Hoffman doesn’t depict the journeys via the usual iconographic signs. Rather, through abstract lines and compositions that relay the layers of time. A history that embodies the interconnectedness of the past and the present.
Due to drawing being labour-intensive, it also allows for a level of immersion. This is the case with Marsi van de Heuvel’s art: detailed drawings consisting of finely executed lines. The result, as with Origin, is not abstract work but a highly figurative one depicting leaves in a rainforest. Van de Heuvel may be interested in ancient tribes in the Congo that inspired the work, but this isn’t manifested in the work, it forms more of her process.
For many young artists, in the art generation we live in, are not driven by an obvious subject, but by the process of making art. Art becomes the recording device to document life, thoughts and desires. This is the case with MJ Turpin’s and Michael Linders’ art. Turpin owns and runs Kalashnikovv gallery while making abstract paintings that appear to be design solutions. For him, art allows for an escape from reality, though it soon becomes this parallel plane that presents a journey back to the self.
Much of the art of this younger art generation appears like design objects in the sense that they present pleasing, decorative patterns. This is the case with Maaike Bakker and David Brits, whose reverse glass drawings mimic traditional sign writing. Linders’ art also references graphic iconography from South African popular culture of the 1980s and early ‘90s. Design has collapsed into the art realm and young artists evince an awareness of this by retrieving the ‘art element’ and motivations informing design of the past. They see the art in design. As such, they challenge our perception of art, which ultimately should be the objective of every new art generation.
Images are courtesy of the Smith Gallery.