Archive: Issue No. 87, November 2004

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Karen Cronje

Karen Cronje Untitled VI - VIII
Oil on board

Marlise Keith

Marlise Keith
Spot the Donkey
Mixed media on board

Michele Davidson

Michele Davidson
Pink Persuasion
Oil and wax on board

Rikus Ferreira

Rikus Ferreira
Periscope (detail)
Mixed media on board

Tamlin Blake

Tamlin Blake
Leucadendron Conicum (detail)
Glass beads on canvas on board

'Doring doilies' at the AVA
by Evie Franzidis

'Doring Doilies' comprises works by five artists, all of whom are recent Masters Graduates from Stellenbosch University. The exhibition aims to present work that is 'beautiful and desirable'. This group includes Michele Davidson, Karen Cronje, Tamlin Blake, Marlise Keith and Rikus Ferreira. Their artists' statement asserts that 'as young artists, we couldn't create art without being informed by a constant awareness of our cultural, social and political milieu. However, we don't want to make this our main focus, as the major intent of this exhibition is to have fun.'

Originally intended to look like an enormous barcode running throughout the gallery, this exhibition is unique in that all the artists worked to exact dimensions, all works measuring 80 cm in height. In several instances three works by separate artists are juxtaposed to look like a triptych in spite of their stylistic diversity. This is one of the ways these individuals are liberating themselves, poking fun at a serious art convention: rejecting the preciousness of authority.

Thus there is no specific theme or concept running through this exhibition, which makes for a refreshing change from the ideologically-complex nature of most art. However, there is still much to interest and intrigue viewers: the variety of style, technique and subject matter add to a diverse and engaging show. Michele Davidson and Karen Cronje are oil painters, the former producing tight, photorealistic images while the latter works in a looser style.

Davidson depicts interiors - specifically bathrooms and kitchens - focusing on sinks, baths and tiles. Each image is eerily devoid of people, some are characterised by sheer-angled views, causing one to feel faintly alarmed. They are reminiscent of film-stills; one feels as though these scenes are pre- or post-event. The repeated use of mirrors, open doorways and dramatic shadows adds to their unnerving quality: something sinister is at work here. They start to feel almost like photographs of forensic evidence, the stark rows of tiles hinting at some untold crime.

Cronje's paintings similarly feel as though there is a narrative to them, filled as they are with discarded gloves, creased fabrics and birds. Although less dramatic, they are enhanced by a limited palette of reds, pinks and white with a hint of blue that adds to a pensive yet passion-filled atmosphere in each work. However, compared with Davidson's images these are hazy. What appears like rumpled sheets invokes a more dreamy quality; not at all like the unblinking gaze of her fellow painter.

Often Cronje's works are juxtaposed with those of Tamlin Blake who has a botanical illustration background. Blake has used glass beads to create intricate depictions of indigenous flowers of South Africa, each evidencing many hours of painstaking work. While very different in style and medium, Blake's beaded flowers are dispersed in a way that colours of adjacent works (specifically Cronje and Davidson) are matched, increasing the visual flow of the artworks.

Blake's use of indigenous motifs also corresponds with Marlise Keith's predilection for South African icons. She incorporates images of South African flowers, and repeatedly uses an image of a jumping antelope. Within her other works we also see an old-fashioned (Pierneef-style) church, Afrikaans text and characters that look vaguely like Afrikaans 'meisies' and 'seuns' of the past. Keith uses a variety of wet and dry media, to describe her soft and dreamlike images. Often her works have an illustrative feel to them; they tend to look like disjointed fairytales, animals and doll-like figures placed in surreal settings.

The final artist in this group, Rikus Ferreira, also has an illustrative quality to his work. There is a distinct Bitterkomix flavour in his black and white images, cartoon-like and surreal. He repeatedly uses motifs of clouds, masks and odd characters in his slightly macabre, very appealing works. In terms of the visual continuity of this show, Ferreira's monochromatic works provide an intelligent counterbalance to the colours used by the other artists. His and Keith's works share an arbitrary surreal-like quality too.

Thus, while all images are so enjoyably different, they hang comfortably together on the walls of the gallery. Only Davidson's absolute clarity of vision is a little severe compared with the rest of the works, yet this is not enough to ruin the aesthetic experience of this exhibition.

The title, 'Doring Doilies', is a bit of a conundrum: 'doring' meaning thorn, while doilies are the kitsch crocheted napkins that people remember ouma using for afternoon teas. This could be a reference to the place where these artists studied (Stellenbosch, a largely Afrikaans society) and especially in Keith's works we see indicators of Afrikanerdom. She presents characters, churches and landscapes in a naïve and nostalgic way, yet also flavoured with a bit of this kitsch. Her Sjoop Sjoop girls, for example, with their bonnets and rosy cheeks, have a vacuous look in their eyes.

Tamlin Blake's beaded flowers share a craft element with doilies; and glass beads are often used in cheap, kitsch products. And it doesn't seem like a coincidence that Ferreira's works are so reminiscent of Conrad Botes' style, as he is also a Stellenbosch graduate. The use of 'doring' then would seem to allude to the artists asserting that their work - while aesthetically pleasing, and at times, kitsch - is a little biting, a bit acerbic. Or perhaps it's just a catchy title.

Whatever the case, this exhibition is certainly enjoyable. It is light but not lightweight, each artist proving to be talented and well on the path to finding their niche in the art world. While individually the works are interesting and alluring, collectively they are even more so. Ultimately, they succeed in being 'beautiful and desirable', without succumbing to superficiality.