30 November 2012

Namibia: Good and Not-So-Good of Canvas Work On Show

Windhoek — Carina Van Der Merwe is showing her work on canvas at the Omba Gallery, and there is a lot to be said about this exhibition.

Certainly, not everything is either good or bad. As a matter of fact, this exhibition is a very good example of the good, the not so good, and the 'stuff' in the middle. Yes, there are certainly some good works, and there are works that just do not work that well. And then there are examples of works that could go either way.

What is of concern in the body of work is the different approaches taken with various subject matter, which does not, as a consequence, coalesce into a Carina Van Der Merwe style. The mark-making is so diverse, that at any given moment one could be forgiven for thinking that it was a group show. Therein lies a problem, but it is also a pointer towards resolving what needs to be done to correct the shortcomings.

Paintings which fall into the category marked 'good' are Rooikappie, where the subject, a very morose-looking young girl has been painted with some skill, and the composition, though bordering on odd, actually works quite well. The dark, foreboding background is exactly what one expects from this familiar story. The various elements work together to create a successful work that has been resolved. The expression on the face is convincingly captured.

The portrait of The Old Woman-Nepal also works, this time as a travelogue picture, but acceptable. The three separate components of No Evil, though not a triptych is another successful work. The see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil phrase has been cleverly done, using an innocent baby as a model, which, to all intents and purposes, acts a subversive element. It is an indication that van der Merwe can and does consider her subject matter, and her themes.

The same applies to the single canvas, Invisible Woman-there are two works by the same name.

Invisible Woman, like No Evil, is a painting with more than a bit of surface energy. The surface of the canvas has been considered, addressed and both these works show a desire to move away from smooth, safe, painterly representations. In many other works, there is a desire to move on as well.

Invisible Woman has her back turned to the viewer, rendering her anonymous, 'invisible', in a sense, and then the figure is integrated into the background, created by the busy rendering of the painted surface, which makes for a very positive approach to overall integration of primary subject, foreground, and background. Successful paintings generally display these three in a good balance. The second Invisible Woman, a triptych loses out somewhat. Certainly the hanging did the work no favours. The change in background colour on the three panels is not a good idea.

The works already mentioned work, and they do so on a few levels. However, what is somewhat puzzling is the very different surface quality! Whatever the reason, one can only deduce that van der Merwe is pushing boundaries and exploring new ways of handling both paint, and addressing surface.

Her least successful works are the Flower Landscape, Into the Sunset, and Goulblomme in Die Hantam. The reason for the drop in success rate is the use of colour. The use of paint straight out of a tube is a very serious impediment to a good colour balance. The primary colours need to be considered. Tone and hue are essential, and that will only come about with the correct mix. A painting very rarely succeeds with just the use of primary colours. There should be a secondary, and preferably also a tertiary range in the overall mix. Just as one goes about layering the surface, so one has to consider the tone and hue. Van der Merwe has used the consistency of the paint to her advantage, where the surface quality points to a new direction away from the safe, smooth and secure rendition. What now has to happen is also a new approach to colour mixing.

This exhibition has the good, the not so good, and the 'stuff' in the middle; altogether, a very useful display of work.

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