Frozen image suggestive of deeper experience
by Melvyn Minnaar
In an era when the visual image is being disempowered, literally and figuratively, by the excesses of the media, an exhibition such as Elizabeth Gunter's demonstrates why the draughtsperson is once again attracting viewers and gaining a foothold in the hallways of contemporary galleries.
As we know all too well, and have come to experience and understand particularly in these times of violence, it is ironically becoming increasingly difficult to be absorbed emotionally or intellectually by the hyper-realistic and technically accomplished media.
Elizabeth Gunter's art is of the kind that stops us in our tracks and forces us to reconsider what we see, and also what we feel and think about the images before us. In other words, she reactivates the frozen image to become a marker of and key to a deeper experience.
With virtuoso skill in the technical handling of a very basic drawing medium such as charcoal (an arresting fact in itself) she toys with several ironies. And the longer the viewer looks at her work, the more he or she is engaged by the artist's performance, and the more deeply satisfying the experience becomes.
The first series, under the title Mourning, comprises a number of neatly framed variations of a sleeping/ resting/ dead female puppy, executed in absolute realism. The exquisite mastery and application of the medium (black charcoal on white paper) render the images almost palpably real. It is as if the puppy is conjured up from the dark as you watch.
In contrast with the formality of these five images, the artist presents 14 unframed pictures in another room, under the title Dwellers II White Dog Process Drawings. These images may be seen as a kind of personal prelude to the first series. They are variations on the figurative theme, and are presented in compelling variations of media (such as paper permeated with oil, which emphasises the tactile nature of the medium), and carry a variety of observations and remarks, signifying the artist's fervent delving and excavation.
In the smaller picture series Swenk, Swig, Swik (wordplay adds another facet to this coherent exhibition) the artist reads different meanings into the position of the animal, as it were. Ironically this contrasts with the neat realism of the initial canine portraits. It is this process of uncovering meaning through drawing that makes the viewer aware of the complex world beyond the immediate images.
In the series Dwellers the dog inhabits the space of humans, and the title could allude to any number of things. Good illustration entails that what is said could not have been said in any other way. It is for this reason that the central part of Gunter's exhibition, the Building series, is arguably the most captivating.
Executed with bold skill and charged with dark mysticism (invoked by the words/ markings inscribed on them), these drawings, like good fiction, inspire viewers to weave their own imaginary tales. We are faced here with a reality and a narrative that we create ourselves, as it were.
Elizabeth Gunter's brilliant exhibition teaches us that looking, and looking properly, will make us realise that there is much to be discovered in the contemporary image.
This review was originally published in Die Burger, April 14, 2003 under the same title. It is reprinted with the kind permission of the author. The work was originally shown at University of Stellenbosch Art Gallery under the title 'Drawings'.
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