Liz at Lancaster’s Pick of the Week: The Jan Smuts Art strip

Marx's large scale mosaic wall depicting an aerial view of Joburg. Photo courtesy

Marx’s large scale mosaic wall depicting an aerial view of Joburg. Photo courtesy

There are currently several not-to-be missed exhibitions showing at some of the galleries clustered along the Jan Smuts art strip.    Showing at Goodman Gallery is Gerhard Marx’s exhibition Lessons in looking down.

Detail: image courtesy of Archithoughts

Detail: image courtesy of Archithoughts

Remember that extraordinary work at the Joburg Art Fair – Gerhard Marx’s mosaic vertical wall depicting an aerial view of part of Joburg Central? Seen reproduced here, it is a tour de force technically, conceptually and aesthetically.  You have another chance to see a smaller work but in similar vein on Marx’s current exhibition.   You don’t have to have had any art viewing training to appreciate the sheer skill, labour and conceptual complexity of this work. And reproductions don’t do it justice as it needs to be seen ‘in the flesh’ (in a manner of speaking)… as the illusion of depth and shadow only comes into focus at a certain viewing distance.

Working with abstracted representations like aerial views, maps and anatomical illustrations, Marx explores depictions of structures that the bare eye cannot normally see. In Garden Carpet: Johannesburg, six large scale canvases together depict a road map of central Johannesburg.  Marx redraws this map with delicate organic lines using bits of plant material (he speaks of ‘harvesting’ his drawing materials!) and small rectangles of tissue paper which are embedded into the base of paint and glue.  He speaks of ‘drawing the world with the world’. The process is painstaking and repetitive – each work takes at least a month to complete – for drawing with minute fine strands of plant material requires the most extraordinarily detailed and skilled workmanship. It is only with clarification from the artist (he gave a walkabout on Saturday), that the various parts of Joburg represented in the maps can be identified.  As a viewer I responded to these works in terms of their intricate and delicate  materiality, the extraordinary labour-intensive process of making, and their powerful and evocative aesthetic effect.

Mother and Child III Plant material with acrylic and glue on boarded canvas 100 X 100cm

Mother and Child III Plant material with acrylic and glue on boarded canvas 100 X 100cm

In three anatomical drawings entitled Mother and Child, (based on 2 relief bronzes on the exhibition) Marx uses hair-like strands from Watsonia bulbs to ‘draw’ 2 sets of rib-cages – that of a child’s ‘grafted’ onto a mother’s. Just as the old masters like Rembrandt would build up their paintings with layers of oil paint, Marx reworks the flat matt-black painted surface of his canvases with the minute strands of plant-fibre and layers of glue so that the final image glows with a pulsating luminosity. 

Don’t miss the small exhibition entitled Dislocations hanging in a side room and curated by Marx to accompany his exhibition.  It comprises 3 pairs of works from Goodman Gallery’s storeroom which all deal with different ways kinds of looking down from above.

 Lessons in looking down closes on 21st Dec.  

Norman Catherine's sculpture outside Circa on Jellicoe

Norman Catherine’s sculpture outside Circa on Jellicoe


Sand blasted stars and sand blasted braille make up the 'full picture'

Sand blasted stars and sand blasted braille make up the ‘full picture’

At Circa on Jellicoe, Berco Wilsenach’s exhibition Written in the Stars III, also deals with what is and is not visible although this time looking upwards and outwards to the stars in the universe.  In the upstairs gallery 6 huge panes of glass are sandblasted with images of the starry sky, images which only a sighted person can see.  The starry skies are labelled in braille however, which only the non-sighted person can access. The 6 works are positioned to radiate from the centre of a circle which means that in viewing one work, another work can always be seen in the background so disrupting any ‘seemless’ singular viewing experience. So in various subtle ways, the process of understanding through looking is called into question. This exhibition also runs until the 21st December.

Norman Catherine's  face and eye make a zany necklace

Norman Catherine’s ‘Eye to Eye’ makes  a zany necklace

And finally at Everard Read there is a little jewel of a show (quite literally) where several well-known South African artists have collaborated with Schwartz Jewellers (with Standard Bank’s patronage) to translate their art into jewellery.  Artists such as Marco Cianfanelli, Karel Nel, Senzeni Marasela, Loren Kaplan, Walter Oltmann, Michael Frampton, Faiza Galdhari, Diana Hyslop and Dylan Lewis have made small scale items of jewellery  of exquisite beauty which are exhibited alongside a couple of examples of their artworks. This exhibition has been extended to the 29th November. 

So take a morning off and spend a couple of hours at these galleries on the Jan Smuts art strip – the experiences will feed your soul and make you marvel at these artists’ creativity, exquisite craftsmanship and skill, and detailed workmanship.

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