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Abstraction blazes ahead

Paul Senyol's Terminology

What preoccupies young artists? What kind of art is being produced now? It is tricky coming up with clean answers to these perennial questions. Movements and ‘isms’ continue to exist in the realm of the visual arts, however, as in the world of fashion, there are many shaping art concurrently and they morph, rise and implode at a rate of knots. Ideas spread quickly and we tire of them just as fast in this digital information age. Yet retrospectively you can detect patterns emerging.

35 years: Trailblazers exhibition at the Lizamore & Associates gallery

features art that has (mostly) been recently produced, yet it is a sort of retrospective. It brings the art produced by a group of young and newcomer artists who have been associated with this gallery.

Lizmore & Associates and its owner, founder Teresa Lizamore, who is celebrating 35 years as a curator, mentor and facilitator, has always sought out overlooked, unknown artists and provided a platform to exhibit. Some have been channeled through mentorship programmes. In a way she has been catching those artists that have for one reason or another fallen through the cracks, haven’t arrived fully formed in the art world or have avoided committing to one gallery, preferring to take control of their own careers.

As such the exhibition opens up a window onto the main movements - discretely hinted at through groupings - that have gripped a generation of artists looking to define themselves and find a foothold in the art world.

Abstraction predictably emerges as the most popular mode with artists such as Bev Butkow, Sofia van Wyk, Lizette Chirrme, Lorenzo Nassimbeni, MJ Turpin, Paul Senyol, Bevan de Wet and to some degree Banele Khoza all embracing this style of visual expression. Nevertheless the art they produce is diverse. Van Wyk’s art appears form driven and is the result of a dialogue between sculpture and drawing. Nassimbeni who hails from the realm of architecture presumably arrives at his marks and lines through mapping or imagining a built environment and a subversion of that vocabulary. He invests a lot in a line – it sets the scale, tone, from a structure is birthed.

Turpin’s works, which were recently part of a solo exhibition at Hazard Gallery, appear to be an attempt to produce a dispassionate form of art generated by a machine – the Zombie referred to in the title. Or is it the artist that is the Zombie – churning out the latest fashion in art that is not guided by ideas or concepts? Whoever made the works, they did so at precisely 3am according to the title of a triptych defined by Turpin’s characteristic splash of neon green. Despite the early hour, the art is perfect looking and controlled. It is almost centred on generating the ideal mark. This notion of perfection that underlies this triptych is at odds with abstraction as being guided by intuition as if in search of imperfection and embracing human foibles.

If Senyol makes art at 3am you imagine he might be listening to jazz. He is not as invested in arriving at a single line as Nassimbeni or Turpin might be, rather he strives for a cacophony of lines, shapes, forms and colour. It is not as haphazard as it seems. The formula is defined by two qualities of lines; the naïve doodle and solid forms, shapes that interact. His language is distinctive, recognisable as is Lizette Chirrme’s textile abstract art advancing anthropomorphic forms from fabric collages.

As the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art’s opening exhibitions will attest, staged photography has dominated visual expression here and elsewhere on the continent. Lebogang Kganye’s arrives at it in a fairly unique manner by enlarging photographs (typically from family albums), cutting them out and turning them into static set pieces, which she now manipulates and animates through stop-frame film making. The result in works such as O robetse a ntse a bala Bona (You are sleeping while reading) are static, decontextualized images that read as stiff, unnatural and staged. In a nutshell: anti-photographs.

Usurping the dark and moody historical drawings to make sociopolitical commentary in the vein of William Kentridge, is another stream of expression, which JM Tshikhuthula enacts with aplomb in his pastel drawing titled Mhani (A Priest).

Not all the artworks can’t be neatly pegged. Vusi Beauchamp’s dark, subversive punky pop cartoon vibe in The National Guillotine, featuring decapitated minstrel faces (his preferred motif), sits in isolation. Khoza’s art which exists at the boundary between abstraction and portraiture with a degree of social-media self-awareness and anxiety also doesn’t fit in. Nevertheless, fitting in is not always recommended in the art realm, though the days of novelty in art are long behind us. – sponsored text by Corrigall & Co

  • 35 years: Trailblazers exhibition at the Lizamore & Associates gallery in Joburg runs until September 23


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