“all that stuns the soul, all that imprints a feeling of terror, leads to the sublime”
Everard Read is proud to present Pastoral Abstraction, a group exhibition featuring painting, sculpture, video and mixed media artworks at the Cape Town gallery space.
Broadly speaking, these artists’ imaginations and emotions with regard to ‘Romantic’ renderings of landscapes serve both as a means of expounding nature’s raw and volatile power, and equally as a deeply personal and introspective account of themselves and their place in the universe. This group exhibition of 8 artists (Beth Diane Armstrong, Swain Hoogervorst, Alexandra Karakashian, Dylan Lewis, Brett Rubin, Sean Slemon, Justin Southey and Jordan Sweke) aims to bring together a contemporary investigation into the notions of conceptual landscape and pastoral depictions where the emphasis is far more than overtly realistic renderings. Instead this selection of artists offers fresh and unique alternatives – expressing abstracted and non representational forms in sculpture, painting, video and photographic based media. Their personal investigations employ the notions of ‘landscape renderings’ within the spiritual and personal creative elements of Romanticism. Where the undercurrent, sublimity and the ‘beauty’ of natural environments serve as vehicles in visual languages to transcend and investigate the awe, terror, and apprehension that the Romanticized notions of Nature inspire in all of us.
Fascinated with ‘structures’, Beth Diane Armstrong retains a strong set of identifiable organic languages. Skilfully crafted and woven with mild steel, Space (2016) is a tree suspended in mid-air. This floating landscapeintensely investigates architectural, mathematical, psychological and conceptual principles while still remaining at its core the shape of a natural object. Process and change feature in much of Armstrong’s ongoing discourse. The structured Botanical form, Only one Living (2016), moves between plant references to a systemic exoskeleton that projects its presence far beyond solid points. This myriad of welded joins and intersecting lines converses not only with the empty space around it, but also with the linocuts hung alongside. Harbinger II– V (2016), a repeated image that serves as a logical backdrop to anticipate further of Armstrong’s unmapped imaginary surfaces.
Swain Hoogervorst’s Referential (2016) body of work re-investigates his observations of formal natural surroundings. Although brighter and more extreme in pallet than the actual scenery, the artists Romantic meditations still steer the audience towards a formal nature study rather than a dreamlike state. Controlled mark-making jostles between loose gestures, open surfaces, fine lines and detailing. This dichotomy is poignantly captured in the large scale monochrome painting Finland (2015) which was painted on residency there last year. Heavy, tense applications of black oil paint bury deep into the canvas alluding to a dense forest setting, and yet the gaps between, (the white noise), removes any suggestions of stagnation. This reinforces Hoogervorst’s sensitive abilities and his skill to oscillate between a free flowing lightness and the heaviest of touch.
Alexandra Karakashian’s ‘response to the contemporary ecological crisis, as well as global and local questions of land, environment and belonging’ steers the artist towards the traditions of monochrome pictorial landscape painting. Imbued with our contemporary uncertainties in relation to the natural world, the diptych Collapse (2016) employs the surfaces and tactility of black paint. Although not traditional in subject matter nor renderings, Karakashian’s Ground I and II (2016) serve for the artist as poignant metaphors, not only for our literal uncertain location in the world we live in, but also, on a more personal level, for ‘notions of exile, migration and refuge’. Explorations of ‘materiality, surface and process’ are also at the forefront of Karakashian’s working methodologies. These are illustrated further with the inclusion of a series of smaller linen canvases Negative I-VI (2016). Here, deliberately making reference to a strip of film or photographic negatives, there remains a flowing stream of consciousness as artworks traverse across various horizon lines into unknown territory.
Dylan Lewis’s relief sculptures investigate mark making in the greater outdoors. The Spoor Series (2015) evokes the literal journey of a ‘Romantic artist’ wandering though the wild uncharted terrain as he exhaustively explores, studies and unravels the geological environment around him. Split Landscape (2015) serves as a more conceptual interrogation of the form of the land, suspending the audience in the echoes or rhythms embedded in the ground beneath. For the artist perhaps these are distillations of patterns and waves that personify ‘Nature’ itself.
Blurred frozen moments in time converge in Brett Rubin’s ‘snap shots’ of the outdoors.There is a deliberate focus on process by Rubin as each image is taken through the window of a moving vehicle, as he travels on road trips. This allows for a re-engaging with principals of what is expected with regards to the documentation of our African landscape and those who occupy it. With the application of each print onto glass (sometimes it is divided into more than one piece as well) the images feel almost sculptural in application. Diepsloot (2015) and Bus Shelter, KwaZulu Natal (2013) aim to expand beyond the traditional vantage points of our environment, thereby constructing an extended relationship between the audience and the natural spaces that surround them.
Sean Slemon’s Fragmented Sapele (2016) investigates the commoditization and distribution of natural resources. Constructed with the wood of an entire Sapele tree it visually expounds both saturation and absence. The artist’s desire to celebrate wood, its origins and its substance, and ‘to create individually honed works that machinery could not produce’ is manifested here in this large ‘tree’ and in Floating Tree (2014) – a solid mahogany form upstairs. The historical drawing in mixed media on paper Disappearing Tree (2010) and the video stills work Public Property (2007) reverts back to Slemon’s interests in our natural surrounding with regards to public vs. private property, its ownership, and the impact this distribution can have on people’s lives.
With a mixture of both melancholy and exuberance, Justin Southey’s landscapes refer to picturesque fantastical lands. Here free floating in sublime blackened spaces, hills and deep ravines jostle with the seemingly tectonic, scratched surfaces. The titles Palisade (2016) and Eminence (2016) give reference to majestic topography, whilst in Highland (2016) the pinks and blues surface as richly animated moments ending in peaks of a mountain range. The richness of all of these different textures across Southey’s paintings, and the various referential marks, appear to converge from various internal landscapes in the artists mind.
Working in an array of visual media including Carbon (2016) a video projected onto a decagonal object and oil paintings on canvases,Jordan Sweke identifies surfaces for their tactile emphasis of his natural surroundings redefining the notions of the abstract and the geometric in the organic world around him. Yearning I (2016) and Fragmentary Void No 11 (2016) are examples that pierce thorough the usual prescribed concepts of the environment. Here Sweke reflects upon spatial perceptions within the natural world and aims to challenge conventions. Yearning II (2016) is a fresh and uncompromising traditional landscape. Blinding, as if in a snowstorm it’s rendering is almost lost by means of his application of white on white. Sweke still manages here though ‘ to reflect a Romantic beauty- a synthesis of life, death and the sublime’ . Though unequivocally derived from the landscape, Sweke continually re-contextualises the subject, forcing his audience to revisit their experience of the natural world through his conceptual natural spaces.
The exhibition runs from the 6th April 2016 – 29th April 2016.
Works for the show: