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Touching soil with Pauline Gutter at UJ Art Gallery

This winter the UJ Art Gallery touches the soil with Pauline Gutter’s new exhibition titled PRIMORDIAL hosted from 9 June to 21 July 2021. Having lived on Free State farms for the better part of her life, Gutter has a deep connection with the soil. This innate relationship between the human psyche and the earth is beautifully reflected in the themes of PRIMORDIAL.
     The opening on 9 June 2021 will take place virtually on the UJ Art Gallery’s innovative online platform MOVING CUBE and will feature a virtual walkabout with Pauline Gutter and Ashraf Jamal streamed from 18:00. Growing in popularity, the MOVING CUBE space offers audiences from around the country and the world a chance to discover and connect with new artists and their work.

Pauline Gutter art PRIMORDIAL
Pauline Gutter’s new exhibition titled ‘PRIMORDIAL’ will show on UJ’s Moving Cube from June to July 2021

On nature, survival, and our connection with the earth

Gutter is known for her monumental works addressing issues of power and land through the analogy of the unstable situation in the agricultural sector. She now focuses on universal themes of negligence, decay, and conflict: the duality of frugal survival versus the excessive waste brought on by exploitation of natural resources, but with the underlying hope of regeneration.
     ‘We are persistently moving away from the reality of survival and security,’ she says, ‘mainly due to our reliance on technology. We must connect with the raw earth again with responsibility and discipline.’
      Gutter’s imagery stems from her direct experiences in nature during the past three years, incorporating the landscape, farm activities, and human reflection on this sensitive resource. She populates her work with animals and insects (often alluding to powerplay) serving as metaphors for concepts of new beginnings and transformation.

‘I use cattle as a metaphor to portray the voiceless; dealing with power structures where bulls become analogous to beasts – simultaneously powerful and fragile.’

Pauline Gutter

The new growth within the detritus and decay left behind by drought, floods, and fires is, for her, an indication that life still prevails in never-ending life cycles outside of the fast track of technology.
     She approaches her subject with intelligence and keen observation – working with layering of colour frequencies and texture to provide a bold and in-depth experience to the viewer. Striking agricultural analogies between the materials and the physical execution of painting with the working of the stubborn land characterise the methods in her processes.

‘In Gutter’s case, there is the matter of unbreachable scale, her animality, the wild dervish-like movement of brush and hand, the obsessive-compulsive mark-making. But, over and above technique, there is the human being, the beast who paints.’

Ashraf Jamal in an essay on the PRIMORDIAL exhibition

Her oil paintings are on flax linen, linen and wood with wax, pigment, clay, and prepared gesso. The drawings are charcoal, oil bar, and masking liquid on 300 gsm BFK Reeves paper and 365 gsm Waterford Hot Pressed paper.  New lithographs and monoprints were all printed by master printer, Leshoka Joe Legate, at LL Editions in Johannesburg.

Reflecting on life under lockdown

To commemorate individual experiences during the lockdown period, the large charcoal drawings (commenced in lockdown 2020) serve as a reminder of the Covid-19 pandemic. The work evidences the use of masking liquid, which is partly erased and traditionally used with watercolours, which in turn denotes the obsession with protective masks.
     About her experience of life during the pandemic, Gutter considers the specific body of work for this exhibition as resonating with a variety of complex nuances. 

‘Covid-19 brought many structural changes to the world we are living in. We have become confined to social media, walking virtual gallery spaces, experiencing virtual artworks. Some works address the spatial and emotional relationship between two extreme events we are enduring within the current phase of the pandemic: being subjected to tactile distancing while we are essentially haptic human subjects ourselves. This is the significance of the use of reticulation and of the tusche washes of lithography.’

Pauline Gutter

Gutter finds that life has become less rushed, and that people have developed a mindful and less consumer-driven approach saying that, ‘Through these convoluted cycles, nature still prevails.’

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic no public opening events will be hosted at the UJ Art Gallery during 2021. A virtual walkabout with Pauline Gutter and Ashraf Jamal will be streamed online on 9 June 2021 from 18:00.  
     The physical exhibition at UJ Art Gallery ends on 21 July 2021 while the 3D exhibition can be viewed on Moving Cube until May 2022.

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