The Namibian (Windhoek)

7 December 2012

Namibia: Life On Canvas

GENERALLY, when someone tells me their exhibition is a collection of scenes and landscapes from around Namibia, I have to hurry to disguise my eye roll as an errant contact lens before graduating my yawn into a bout of whooping cough.

However, when that somebody is first time exhibitor Carina van der Merwe, it seems I would do well to curb my theatrics.

Though the title 'Life on Canvas' returns over 50 million Google hits and the stunning though sometimes scarily unimaginative subject matter of the namibian landscape is the go to theme for local artists throughout the territory, van der Merwe's treatment of the familiar is decidedly fantastic.

Not because she populates her paintings with ghouls or goblins but because she succeeds in imbuing everything with that mythical namibian light we've heard photographers talk about in whispers, while allowing us to see familiar sights like the Christuskirche and the Windhoek skyline in a way that lends magic to the real thing.

This idea of photography is taken one step further when one notes that at times her work is so vivid and precise that from across the room it looks like a photograph stretched out on canvas; though a few paces forward will reveal her work as oil or acrylic.

Pictures like 'Desert Balloon', have this photo quality and its multi-coloured air balloon flying over a shrub-filled dune was snapped up by discerning patron in an instant. 'henties Bay Sunset's' pretty precision has a similar quality and depicts the sea below a setting sun painted so impeccably one can almost smell salt.

Other paintings such as 'Christuskirche' and 'Windhoek' are less impeccable but just as beautiful what with the iconic landmark under the sparkling rays of a rainbow and the city skyline dabbed and dotted into colourful existence.

In terms of painting subjects one has often seen in real life, exhibitions, photographs and in documentaries, van der Merwe believes that a thing's incarnations are infinite. "I believe that one place can be painted a thousand times and no two paintings will be alike as painting is a very personal thing," says van der Merwe. "It is almost like your signature. not only that, a lot of emotion goes into creating a work of art."

Walking through the exhibition, one will be amazed at van der Merwe's versatility. Sometimes strictly realistic, other times blurring the edges of buildings we know well and finally immersed in suggestive swirls of colour, van der Merwe seems to flit from technique to technique with ease and aplomb.

In paintings like 'Into the Sunset' and 'Flower Landscape', van der Merwe is far from the realism of 'Desert Balloon'.

having forsaken faithful reproduction for great canvases filled with dotted, swirling, romantic swipes of colour, van der Merwe reveals a love and skill for various styles which speaks to her sense of whimsy despite her obvious inclination towards perfection.

"To be honest, I do not really know why I paint in such different styles, maybe a psychologist can examine the paintings and give us some insight," she says. "It just depends on how I feel on a specific day and hour. To sit in front of a new canvas is very exciting as you never know exactly what it will become or how it will look when you're done."

Though van der Merwe does offer a few pieces of Welwitschia, gousblomme and Sossusvlei which seem a little too trite and familiar, for the most part her wonderful depiction of skies and luminous use of colour lends an elegance and signature to tried and tested subject matter.

When asked "when did you first realise you could paint?" van der Merwe offers up a story of painting a fairy as a teenager and people not believing that she did it.

Upon viewing the exhibition, some paintings elicit the same response and there is also the sense that, should van der Merwe choose to paint her mind rather than materialised things, the awe would be augmented.

'Life on Canvas' can be viewed at the Omba Gallery until December 14.

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