“The world is not well,” declares artist Beezy Bailey. His prophetic statement comes weeks before the opening of his exhibition and Donald Trump’s victory in the US elections.
“The earth is sick and the sky is vomiting mud,” he says. He doesn’t mean this literally – he is referring to the metaphorical world that pervades a new series of paintings. The exhibition sounds gloomy, but the art and the event that launched the new Circa gallery in the refurbished Unlundi House on the Portswood Ridge, was surprisingly festive, despite the inclement weather.
Cape Town’s well-to-do turned up in droves filling the cavernous two floor building overlooking the harbour. Where once in the 1800s port engineers rattled around in the stone building, it was filled with socialites, art buyers and industry people spying each other and the art of
Bailey and young upstart Liberty Battson.
It was a good idea pairing a senior artist well known in moneyed social circles in Cape Town with a virtually unknown Joburg-based artist working in a minimalist abstract language. In this way gallerist, Charles Shields, had both bases covered, delivering on both the expected and the unexpected and cheeky– Battson’s exhibition is titled I bet you wish you did this.
I bet everyone there was wishing they were in Battson or Bailey’s shoes as the dots gathered next to their works, indicating sales or at least serious interest. The two artists work might be united by their bold use of colour but it could not be more different.
Bailey’s 1000 year Dance Cure exhibition is driven by intuition and relates to primordial mythology – that dance is a necessary form of expression and humanity. Bailey’s solution for this “sick” world is dancing. Lots of it. The theme is overstated, manifesting in dancing figures in almost every artwork on the exhibition. You find yourself attaching different feelings to these figures; some appear lonely, withdrawn and lost in their own worlds, while others look carefree and joyful.
In Angels of the Night, a couple are caught up in merriment with their hands in the air. There are ghosts spreading their limbs in another painting and black silhouetted figures up against colourful backgrounds are captured mid-air with their legs in the splits. Women are depicted shaking their hips in another artwork and a yellow suited figure amuses a crowd with an exaggerated jive. A suite of sculptures are all caught in the act of dancing too. In other words the mood that permeates Bailey’s exhibition is anything but sombre.
“Without the dark there is no light,” he observes, philosophical and Zen like.
The celebratory tone the exhibition evokes seems fitting; Capetonians will be happy to welcome a new contemporary art space to the V&A Waterfront, which is slowly evolving into an art node with the Everard Read Gallery nearby and the highly anticipated Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art due to open its doors in September 2017.
“I’ve been eyeing out the building for years,” confesses Charles Shields, the director of Everard Read Cape Town and this new Circa space, which will mark a new era for the building that functioned as a house for port engineers, dating back to 1898. The new gallery had to be installed in a prominent architectural landmark – mirroring its Joburg branch, which is a stunning circular building designed by Pierre Swanepoel from StudioMAS. This building is centred on restoration rather than innovation – the façade has been left intact and dry-packed stone walls have been repurposed.
This will be the third Circa gallery – a second one opened in London, Fulham Road earlier this year – in the Everard Read franchise and is testament to it being the largest contemporary art group in the country. Art retail-chains are a thing – Goodman, Stevenson, Momo and Southern Guild galleries are all growing branches and expanding their provincial reach. Art is a bona fide asset class these days and in this ‘sick’ choppy financial world it appears to provide some sturdy investments.
The Circa gallery brand is associated with experimental art.
“It gave us the license to do what we like,” says Shields.
Younger, more cutting edge artists are exhibited in the Circa galleries. Enter Battson, the young abstract minimalist painter. With the structure and form of her artworks being derived from internet data Battson is so obviously a product of her generation. There is no room for intuition, mood or whimsy in her art; each colour stripe in her barcode type paintings is determined by numbers, statistics. Canvases are most often split into two with one side representing data from a local url and the other an American one. It is the co.za versus the com. in other words. This makes for very dry, repetitive art. Each work looks like the one before, aside from a few alterations. This is algorithm art that might have been even more compelling had it been painted by a computer too.
Battson attempts to remove traces of her hand via these slick shiny coloured blocks, though she presents us with balls of all the masking tape used in creating the lines in the form of ‘sculptures’. Precisely square shaped they appear clinical too. This seemingly ‘accurate’ art of hers, of course, is a foil for the slippery nature of the data and the issues, material it is meant to represent about the world. The statistics refer to immigration, xenophobia – all the real issues. Like most of us, she turns to the internet to provide insight, the answers, which not too unexpectedly are unreliable and contradictory with the co.za data appearing different to the information on .com. The bold straight lines offer some comfort, particularly when separated from the information they are meant to represent. In this way ‘death’ looks pretty and colourful, though as certain as a straight line. Fortunately, Bailey has the cure for all the malaise; a 1000 year-long jig.
Bailey might not be the best painter or artist, whatever that might mean in today’s artworld, but there is a compelling energy and sensation in these works. It could be attributed to the movement of the bodies, the expressiveness in combination with the very vivid and warm colour palette – reds, purples, pinks. He does sort of make you want to dive into this pretty world of dancing people, who are flowing and jiving and allowing themselves to be swayed by whimsy, emotion or intuition. He transports viewers to a place they don’t often visit, where nothing matters and you can just be. Yoga studios around Cape Town are full of people trying to arrive there by any which way and somehow Bailey has captured this headspace or non-headspace driven by the body and not the mind.
This sense of mindlessness that his art relies on and captures may be why some commentators have dismissed it. For so long we have expected art to speak to our minds and not our bodies.
“In our fragmented and lonely society, dance is this thing that unites people,” says Bailey. Dance also allows him to revel in his love of music and a seemingly suppressed yearning to perform. “It is my nature to be a bit of show-off,” he admits. - versions of this text first appeared in The Sunday Times, and The Cape Times