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‘More lives than a cat’ | A Q&A with painter Georgina Gratrix

Georgina Gratrix is a household name in contemporary South African painting. Known for her animated and rich oil paintings, full of life, colour, and a touch of humour, the painter has been carving out her signature style of portraiture, landscapes and still-life paintings for years now, having exhibited these works in numerous solos and group shows locally and abroad.

The Reunion, currently on at Cape Town’s Norval Foundation until 31 May 2021, is Gratrix’s first solo exhibition at a museum and brings together 27 major artworks, completed between 2011 and 2020. Responding to loose themes within the artist’s practice, the exhibition is broadly divided into three parts, namely her portraits of public figures, portraits of friends, family, and the artist herself, and finally, her still-life paintings.
     Creative Feel recently caught up with Gratrix for a quick Q&A around The Reunion, the past 10 years of her practice, and her thoughts on South African painting.

  • Georgina Gratrix

Creative Feel: Tell us a bit about the title of the show. Who or what is being reunited with these works? Is it a reconciliation of your shifting interests and practice over the years?
Georgina Gratrix: The title of the show was suggested by the curator of the exhibition, Liese van Der Watt, and it seemed fitting to both of us for many reasons. Firstly a literal gathering and communion of works from the past 10 years coming together again to share a space and secondly a  hopefulness to set the tone of the exhibition as viewers and the audience. The title is taken from a large group portrait in the show and speaks of extended  family and the desire to connect in these disjointed times.

CF: You’ve had numerous solo exhibitions over the years, but The Reunion is your first solo in a museum context. Does this change anything for you in terms of the work and how it’s viewed?
GG: The Reunion is my first exhibition in a museum and yes I think removing the work from a commercial setting allows the viewers to find a narrative and understand the work through carefully considered themes and grouping of the work. Together with wall text it allows, hopefully, a wider audience to come forward and engage with the work.

  • Georgina Gratrix Reunion
  • Georgina Gratrix Reunion

CF: If we’re to look back at the past nine years that these paintings were produced, what would some of the key points of progress or influence be for your practice?
GG: Key influences that, for me, are apparent in the work are a love of the familiar, trying to understand how to present relationships and feelings towards myself and those around me.

CF: Similarly, how do you think South African painting, in general, has shifted over these years?
GG: Painting has more lives than a cat and is thriving.

CF: You’ve spoken about the limits of representation in your work before. How does fiction or fabrication factor into your paintings, specifically your portraiture?
GG: I think to make any portrait is to fabricate a relationship. I only work from photos and often like to find the images. I would never like to direct a person and tell them how to sit or where to look.

CF: Your portraits also tend to ‘take on’ a certain colour in each painting, be it in the subject themselves, or through the background contents and general atmosphere of the painting. Where do these colours come from?
GG: The colours of the work are a very organic process, the mint greens and beet reds as in History of Dad, or the baby soft blues and soft pinks as in the  Becky work seem to find themselves.

CF: There is a playfulness and a joy that’s immediately evident in your still life paintings. Does the process of working on these paintings differ at all to that of your portraits or landscapes?
With the still lives mixing large batches of oil paint is a wonderful process but I wouldn’t say I find it particularly more joyful, it’s just different.

CF: Your series of watercolour self-portraits made during the 2020 national lockdown are also included in this show. Would you say that the pandemic has added or taken anything away from your practice, or your approach to painting at all?
GG: These self-portraits came out of a time of bewilderment which is what I imagine most people were feeling. It felt right to do something small and manageable and easily sharable on Instagram – a platform I felt was easiest to connect with friends all over the world and share ideas and thoughts in an immediate way.

  • Georgina Gratrix watercolour
  • Georgina Gratrix watercolour
  • Georgina Gratrix watercolour
  • Georgina Gratrix watercolour
  • Georgina Gratrix watercolour

Find out more about The Reunion by visiting The Norval Foundation.

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