Kevin Brand's 4x4
by Andrew Lamprecht
Kevin Brand's latest exhibition is a demonstration that assumptions about the state of painting in South Africa need serious revision. '4x4', at Cape Town's Bell-Roberts, questions some essential notions relating to the nature of the painted surface. Fourteen paintings on metal structures and ten sketches for these works make up a unified and challenging exhibition. Using a severely restricted palette that emphasises neutral, light earth shades - and a technique of pixellation that mechanises the artistic process - Brand interrogates urban and suburban South African life.
His subject matter ranges from newspaper property advertisements, as in The House Next Door and Dad's Work, through seemingly found views of cityscapes as in Night and Earth, to under-the-bonnet images of the automobile, as in What's a Spot Rod?. One might suspect that with their muted colours and insipid subject matter Brand's latest pieces demonstrate an almost nihilistic vision of a world devoid of meaning, or one in which meaning has to be mediated through texts that simplify, commodify and repackage in deliberately obfuscatory ways. The time of representing a fictive reality through a vision of painting replete with the baggage of Modernism has made way to a more fluid, and at times considered, approach that sees the canvas (or in this case prepared metal surface) as a site of reconsideration rather than grandstanding.
By using formulaic imagery, albeit somewhat recontextualised, and representing this in the calm order of the grid, and then using his heavily controlled range of colours and tones, one may be inclined to feel that romanticism is being glimpsed through the calm of order, structure and harmony. This then raises the question of Brand's own relationship to these images. Given his technique, a question arises as to whether Brand is consciously setting out to romanticise the stock imagery of South Africa?
Another view could well see Brand's latest work as noting the tension between violence and the images of passive longing that litter our visual terrain. Whether it be the internal combustion engine of Isn't it Fun, which alludes to the bone-crushing power of the motor-car in a South African context (mindful of our huge road deaths), or the creepy realisation that the real estate advertisements sourced in Our Street hide a reality of terrible domestic violence and sexual abuse.
The technique of pixellation, which appears to have become something of a trend in recent years, is made transparent by the sketches that accompany the paintings. These sketches show the painstaking system of gridlines and different weights of texture that Brand used to make up the larger works. One is reminded of Brand's sculptural strength when seeing these highly constructed surfaces, with their reworking and careful plotting. The use of the grid demands a revision of the nature of painting. By taking the painter's mystique in representing a vision of reality through the deft application of paint down to a system approach, Brand is bravely presenting himself as a painter for whom "traditional" skill is unimportant (in this series of works at least), while emphasising the conceptual integrity necessary to carry such a tightly composed exhibition together.
This leaves one with a positive sense for the exhibition: it can be seen to represent a new shift in painting that takes the discipline away from the limitations that have so dogged it through the eighties and early nineties (all the baggage of representational reality versus the demands for social legitimacy). On the other hand we may be left wondering just how profound all this deliberate shying away from the formal structure of painting is when the artists is, after all, still applying paint onto a flat surface with a brush with the aim of having it hung on a gallery wall. As paintings and sketches, the works in '4x4' are stimulating. At times they even offer a disturbing glimpse through the eyes of an artist who is concentrating on the most difficult of themes: the profoundly narrow vision of sameness. As an exhibition, '4x4', for all its strengths, still leaves many questions unanswered about the current direction of South African art.
Opening 6pm, February 5
Closes: March 1
Bell-Roberts Art Gallery, 199 Loop Street, Cape Town
Tel: 021 422 1100
Fax: 021 423 3135
Hours: Mon - Fri 8.30am - 5pm, Sat 10am - 1pm