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Looking back to some process work and seeing where it lead

The painting process involves a lot of experimentation. It involves thinking and sensing through the handling of materials in various configurations. These materials, and their compositions and combinations, offer opportunities to explore and sense aspects of the world. In the midst of this process, however, early stages of a painting often remain undocumented. It is an unfolding process after all, transitory moments of painting and thinking en route to more resolved states. Painting can be somewhat goal orientated at times, and especially so when there are deadlines looming and anxieties rising. In hindsight, however, and as much of painting discourse states, transitory moments in a painting practice are important from a methodological point of view. They are moments that in accumulation not only lead towards resolved paintings, but also lead to the practice changing over time.

These paintings were captured in early to mid 2015 during a studio visit with Jill Ross and Brendan Copestake. Quite recently, Brendan kindly shared these photos with me via email, and this prompted my current reflective moment. The paintings were the beginnings of work that would end up in three different group exhibitions during 2015. One of the paintings on the wall, the large red and orange one to the center, is a painting I had completed for an installation in a group exhibition a bit earlier that year. The installation was titled Chaos and turbulence in a moment of change (2015), and after the exhibition was concluded, I employed the painting as a visual marker in my studio to influence the direction of my new paintings. The new paintings, seen here in their early states, were the ones destined to be assembled as installations as part of three group exhibitions around the middle of 2015. Like the paintings, each installation was an experiment trying to find a new direction. The titles for the installations in which the paintings ended up were In interruption there is life (2015), Pendent: Undecided, but waiting on top of an overhang (2015), and Outflow: Planned or unplanned, but turbulent (2015).

The studio visit photos provide a glimpse into my thought and working process of a moment in the middle of 2015. In the background of the studio, assembled as a wall from which to hang the paintings I was working on, were recycled canvases from two early solo exam exhibitions during the time of my bachelors: Nature and Artifice (2008) and Environments (2009). The frames that make the wall structure were from my masters solo exam exhibition in 2012 and from two shows in the following two years that quite heavily drew on the masters work: Some combinations in a complex environment (2012), An uncertain encounter outside a corner shop (2013) and Painterly accumulations off the wall (2014). None of the images and objects that were combined to form studio infrastructure were meant to be direct references for my new paintings hanging on that wall, yet they were influential. The studio environment is an important place to think through painting and installation, and I recall that in 2015 my assembled studio infrastructure provided a source of memory to work from, and also to work away from.

After reflecting on the photos Brendan sent me, I looked through my own documentation folders, and found two more studio process shots that I took during that year. The one photo is from slightly earlier than the time of the studio visit. It is a more zoomed out studio shot that includes the yet earlier versions of the paintings and also the painters trolley I used back then. The other photo is of a few months after the studio visit with Jill and Brendan with an entirely different group of paintings. I include these two photos as I continue my reflection below.

The 2015 year turned out to be the beginning of a transitional period for my painting and installation. By the end of the year I would visually simplify the studio – the old canvases started to distract me as I gained a new direction – and there was a somewhat new element in my painting. As can be seen from the studio shot below, by August/September that year there were no more canvases on the wall, and the paintings had incorporated a new layering dimension that was still latent in earlier works. These paintings were heading for the September FNB Joburg Art Fair that year.

The public experimentation via group shows and art fairs in 2015 moved into a mostly private studio-based exploration in 2016. There is one glimpse into the studio from that year, almost exactly a year forward. It is offered via a blog post for David Krut Projects of the September 2016 studio visit with Jesse Cohen a few weeks before that year’s FNB Joburg Art Fair. The image below is one of the images Jessie captured in that studio visit. It shows that I had moved to a new location, that I was working on a new set of paintings, and that everything was still in flux.

Between 2016 and 2017 was the period in which I started experimenting with encaustic printmaking and sculpture in the painting studio. I was trying to see the meaning that could arise between works in prints, sculpture, and painting. The experimentation culminated in 2017 with a public presentation via a solo exhibition titled Movement and its limitations within an environment. By this point I had developed a new direction from the earlier work, yet one that incorporated aspects of previous series. The photos below are two moments in the studio just before the exhibition. In the first I was testing arrangements of paintings and the sculpture. In the second I was busy documenting individual artworks for catalogue. These are some of the few studio shots I have with work at a point close to exhibition.

Apart from changes in the works of art, there was also a change in how I incorporated process work, its documentation and reflection in terms of the public presentation of work. For the 2017 show I created several blog-based reflections related to the working on, thinking through and conceptual relationships of the group of paintings, prints and sculpture that comprised that solo exhibition. These reflections are collected on the exhibition documentation page of Movement and its limitations within an environment. This communication ability improved, no doubt, partly because of my involvement in that period with several arts-based social research projects and the methodology research and public arts-based advocacy exhibitions we were conducting through the MoVE Project at the African Centre for Society and Migration (ACMS).

To wind up this reflection I want to bring together a couple of thoughts. The first thought is that creating a painting is not exactly a linear process: While undertaking the process there are many half-starts and dead ends, but luckily there are also some breakthroughs. This then leads to the second thought: The beauty of the studio shot is that while studio visits can often lead to breakthroughs, the photographs that document the studio visit usually do not show the breakthrough itself. They show something in flux, and only moments of that flux. These small changes that constitute the transient moments of a changing practice do not always make exact sense in the midst of the process. They also naturally recede into memory. In the back of your mind these moments are quite easily forgotten and many of them are lost. Here, then, is the third and last thought: The moments that are not lost lie dormant from where they can be recalled by an old set of photos, in this case shared by some friends.

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