Friday, May 25, 2012

A look at Joan Martin at Fat Tuesday.

I recently conducted a walkabout in a fantastic gallery up in Kloof called Fat Tuesday. Never at a loss for inspiration and resource material, I was able to express my excitement towards these artists . Maggie Strachan, Lara Mellon and Joan Martin. I read this exhibition as fireside stories, told over a hearty soup. The ingredients being the messages communicated by these artists which certainly fed and nourished a moving public. Leo Tolstoy said this " say that Art is good, but incomprehensible to the majority of people is the same as saying of some kind of food, that it is very good but  that most people cannot eat it!" Judging by the massive sales, I would conclude that many identified , drank and digested these messages.

Joan Martin loves to experiment. Her works shows realism and yet often are surreal in composition. Textured imprints penetrate into the surface or are built up. Honest in her process Martin humorously refers to filling areas of her composition with her ubiquitous cat or bird image or sculptured trees. Her obsession with these images suggests that they are more than just solutions to compositional problems.
"Feathers melt into the Wing"
"Gayes Gecko"
Joan s use of resin symbolically  preserve s, holds  within, capture s and document s . In the work called “Gayes Gecko”(right) , the familiar gecko (top right) was given by a friend. Once dead and discarded it is now a feature for discussion. It is embalmed and carries a certain dignity in it‘s death. Much like tree sap, it magnifies and exaggerates the surface or item beneath. 
The feather imprints seen in works such as “Feathers Wheeling in the Wind” and” Feathers, melt into the Wing” indeed speak of fossils and preservation. Holding concrete for prosperity something of ones findings.  The sparrows are symbols for me of the flight of thought which one wants to capture and set in stone , in order to look at and discover.             
The flight of birds provide a rather whimsical and lyrical addition to the paintings.  A lot of Martins thought process is an art form. The way in which she documents her findings and makes her image associations is very clever and quirky.

 “Dundee Tenements”(left) shows the artist as little girl, the buildings of her hometown in Dundee, Scotland evident in the distance, placed on a curve to the right of a magnified nest atop a foreshortened tree. Although each image is beautifully realistic , the perspective is tweaked showing an element of fantasy. A certain humorous science fiction quality is present. The composition is one you would find in a dream giving the image a rather surreal feel.
Martin s theme of looking back at her life is not a knew one but one re visited. Recently the artist participated in ” the sketchbook project :2012” ,a travelling exhibition of sketchbooks from it’s base in New York. Martin s chosen theme, “ Along the line” , was a journey of her life in about thirty two pages. This exhibition begins with some of those original sketches of herself as little girl and ends in present time as a middle aged women no longer wanting to hide the silver strands beginning to sneak into her dark hair. It is of no co incidence that Martin uses silver and raw umber tones to denote this phase of life.
Interestingly, Martin s perspective is generally one of looking up but here one looks down at the little girl. Her head enlarged by the foreshortening. I pause and admire just how much head knowledge this lady has. Intellectually astute indeed! And I am reminded of just how much head space goes into the production of art.

"Tree and Sparrow"
 “The layering sets up a contrast in terms of subject matter and texture and also sets up spatial tension and ambiguity.” says Martin.
The plaster and resin are permanent materials whereas the gauze and found objects more fragile. This ambiguity is appealing to the artist.The sense of enjoyment of materials is a feature.     
  “ Tree and sparrow” ,  “Origin reworked” and “ Grey Stone Circle”(above) shows the progression from reality into abstraction where the painting becomes less about what we see but more about what we feel as we respond to the textures. 
Grey Stone circle is an emotive painting that speaks to our senses long before our mind can word and make sense of it.
Is it bones? Is it the rembrandt s of a cathedral, is it ribs or is it skeletal fingers. Is it again fossils found in an archeological dig?
"Origin reworked
"Grey Stone Circle"
Martins trees is an old subject of hers. Always the same tree, the “ Ficus Natalensis”. The strangler fig of Natal. Appreciated for it’s sculptural and muscular forms yet known to adapt and survive off it’s partner which it eventually takes over in order to thrive. Interestingly Martin was unaware of this characteristic and appreciated the wild fig for it’s textures, intertwining branches and muscular layering representing to her, a vibrant and long lasting life. The tree is also seen as a link between heaven and earth. Certainly in some of the later works, Martin s fig tree could also be seen as a Baobab. I discovered recently , whilst travelling in Zimbabwe, that some baobabs were used as places of refuge for certain tribes. A hide out! They seem to not be constrictors but rather be objects of strength(muscular). A place of rest and restoration.  It’s roots stretching up and tapping into some source of information, be it divine or intuitive. Or is it simply being a tree, purposed to be nothing else than to merely exist and be appreciated for what it is. A tree.

Being an effective art teacher at Durban Girls College causes Martin to rely strongly on thought process to plan structured, clear, concise, contained and controlled projects that need to be documented along the way. Her resin droppings are contained within the image. Interestingly that amidst the control needed to produce some of the work, Martin then sabotages her own technique. 

Her process is as follows. White board drawn on with pencil or ink. At times the board is smooth, other times it is textured. The ink is unpredictable in it‘s permanence and spilling. Elements of chance and control merge. Colour is introduced, left to dry before being sanded down. ( Brave lady)Sealing the surface with a resin of sorts, Martin begins again until she is satisfied.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A look at Lara Mellon in the latest exhibition at Fat Tuesday

All the works on this exhibition at Fat Tuesday are small. Possibly due to the size of the venue but also due to the intimacy of the work. Small works cause the viewer to come closer to view the work.  In Mellon s work this is important so that one in essence peels back the mist on the surface to be able to focus on what lies beneath.   
I find it interesting in the light of Maggie s healing and restoration process that Lara worked from darker, earthy tones in this body of work to lighter, cooler, airier, silver hues. Was this process also for her a cathartic one bringing peace and rest for her soul? Yes! Indeed!
Steal Away Silver 1
The texture in her mixed media work is paramount to her. This artist makes texture, changing the surface from two dimensional into relief. I see her process as an archeological dig, where she excavates the layers on the physical surface of the painting as much as she digs deep into her soul to discover what she longs for.  In a sense Mellon steals time from the rigidity of her day into the freedom of discovering this expressive space.  “Steal Away Silver 1”  and "Steal Away Silver 2" exemplifies this point.

A lot of Mellon s work contains tiny little cut out figures which first appeared in her Berlin series in 2008. Her reference was from photographs taken of people seen on the side of the road whilst she travelled in her car. Not knowing them , she cut them out and used their templates, their existence in her landscapes. They are shadows of people this artist responds to.  I daresay that 
many perhaps would have much rather been experiencing Mellon s landscapes than their own. Her sweeping skies has a strong association to Turners. 
Steal Away Silver 2
Lara Mellon, impulsive, intuitive, works, re works, breaks down, builds up ( Palimpsest) and continues to layer until it feels right. A similar approach to her colleague, Joan Martin.
Romantic qualities can be seen in her work. Lara s favourite scripture is “ Look to the hills... psalm 121” The psalms were love letters to God. This influences the spirit of her work. 
Indeed the artist shared with me about her rides on horseback in her youth. These paintings capture that exotic time for her where she was able to just be alone without feeling lonely. Her works capture the smell of earth, the dew on wet soil, the wind in her hair, the smell of the grasses. Her work inspires in me the romantic and the nostalgic, it moves me to long for the silence and for the slow
In the search to find self, Mellon discovers rest, restoration and recovery, healing. She imparts this to the viewer and prompts the audience to also dwell in this place of mist where time in a sense stands still. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A look at Maggie Strachen in Lost, Found, Stolen Exhibition.

Maggie Strachan, Joan Martin and Lara Mellon( Durban based artists) initially met with personal items from which they would share and embark on a new journey. Interestingly Strachan could not recall exactly the items and it was insignificant because, despite the “stolen” objects and techniques, shared amongst the three, the work is profoundly self absorbed and unique to each individual.

"A place in the Sun"
Memories of spitfire planes training on a friday in East London, is evident in some works. The spitfire theme is then carried across into Martin s work. The painting that lingers in my heart is the little girl who stands a top her dad.  “A place in the Sun.”
One notices her feet atop his eyes. He can only be consumed by her, focused on her. The two figures resemble a rocket about to launch it s landing gear. 
An intimate moment is captured, the little girl carries a freshness of youth full of promise and good things to come.

In this body of work, Maggie Strachan, re visits her past. Her journalling through the process of painting enables her to discover new truths about her past.  She begins with her childhood photographs. In her discovery of that child she sees with new eyes and finds a happy child . This enlightens her and brings about much healing and restoration as her original impression of childhood for the best of her seventy two years seemed to her to be an unhappy one.
These earlier works carry the energy of traditional gesture drawing and the technique is left more to chance than compared to her investigation of old photographs containing her own mother a little later on.