Ian Grose and Isabel Mertz win awards at the 2011 Absa LAtelier
Ian Grose at ABSA GalleryBy Matthew Partridge
21 July - 19 August. 0 Comment(s)
Ian Grose is not particularly fond of rugby. Indeed the lanky, softly spoken 26-year-old doesn’t look like he would be particularly at home on pitch. Perhaps his build would be good for a backline centre, maybe fullback, but tackling doesn’t seem as if it would suit his quiet demeanour.
Yet despite this frank disregard for the physical nature of the game, Grose was asked as a condition of his winning the Absa L’Atelier Art Award to write a few words of inspiration to the Springboks ahead of their world cup campaign in New Zealand. Such is the disparate nature of corporate sponsorship.
buy art prints
‘All of this doesn’t really suit what I do’, he remarks. By all of this he means the sudden media attention he has received since winning the country's oldest art award last week, which will undoubtedly launch his career and change his life. 'My job is to go to my studio for a couple of hours a day and sit quietly and paint'. However, in a little over a week, he has been on TV, the radio and his phone is ringing off the hook with messages of congratulations and interest in his work.
'It seems strange, all of this for just one series of paintings'. Yet his triptych Colour, Separation is more than just a series of paintings. It speaks about his ongoing relationship with photography and the translation of that obsession into paint, with each painting in the series being broken down along the format of the RGB colour model. What is perhaps most striking is the gestural realism that Grose achieves in these works, with each painting having the impression of looking at a photograph yet with enough attention given to the mark and brushwork.
After being rejected from art school in Paris, Grose is on his way back as part of the award, saying that he has ‘unfinished business with the city. I have a real affection for French painting’, he adds, speaking of his affinity for the Impressionists, and citing Manet first. However, what Grose’s works most resemble are works by Monet, such as his haystacks and cathedrals. Here the paintings expose a verisimilitude to their subjects, yet also stay faithful to their medium. ‘I was trying to make marks that I wouldn’t get sick of,’ Grose explains.
‘The Impressionists weren’t concerned with telling stories,’ he tells me. Grose’s paintings nevertheless do explore narrative, albeit in a fragmentary manner: in the unmade beds illuminated by cracked, dim light sources that tell of the night before, of morning afters, of restless dreams. However, in this new painterly idiom Grose says that the medium is as much the content of the work as the subject is. Using transparent washes of paint to emulate the medium of photographic printing, he has achieved a unique look and texture in these works. Working onto glue-sized Fabriano, Grose is protective of his technique, saying that he has taken years practising and perfecting the method that gives his medium a unique incandescence.
Speaking of the choice of winners, national selector Vulindela Nyoni remarked that the top ten finalists reflected the quest for excellence that the Absa L’Ateliers strive for, saying that he was ‘humbled’ by the creative work that was on display, adding that ‘we endeavoured to be objective and transparent in our selections’. Formerly the Volkskas Bank Atelier Art Award up to 1998, the competition has had some prestigious winners such as Penny Siopis, Diane Victor, Virginia MacKenny, Conrad Botes and James Webb, to name a few. In 2004 the Gerard Sekoto prize was introduced, giving an added bonus to the competition and sending another artist to a Paris residency.
This year’s Sekoto prize winner was Isabel Mertz from Pretoria with her Anthropomorphic Spaces 3. The mixed-media work of wax Lego pieces resembling cityscapes on an architect’s drawing board creates an eerie view of a post-apocalyptic landscape where the dormant city lies in ruin.
What was surprising about the top ten finalists was their relative youth, with virtually none being over the age of 30, revealing the wealth of new talent coming up through the ranks. Interesting, too, was the presence of three Michaelis graduates in the top 10, with Jesse Hammond and Alice Gauntlett receiving Merit Awards to the value of R25 000. What was perhaps also surprising, and somewhat disappointing, was Sofia Stodels contribution, Removed not receiving an award in the top 10. The sophisticated stop-animation work delivered a nuanced social commentary that was conspicuously absent from many of the other works on display.
Yet what this also reveals is a move on behalf of the judges to look for new talent that breaks the conscriptions of South African art to focus on socially relevant issues. This fresh new direction highlights the search for an art that looks to the future for new possibilities of expression and representation, free from the constraints of the country’s jaded history.
Matthew Partridge is a writer living in Johannesburg.