The Moods of Textures in Jill Trappler’s “Unfolding Her”

Jill Trappler’s “Unfolding Her” is an exhibition about individuality or the search for individuality. Permeating through the fabrics, canvases and threads are signs for borders and traversal of those that the artist negotiates. Stitched in the crevices and lines of the art works are the signs that are symbolize the concretization and disintegration of discovery and relinquishment that individual searches are characterized by. If one recalls the video piece in the exhibition for example, the artist writes that while making the video the spontaneity and discoveries that stitched it together enabled her to perceive ‘borders’ and lines between the images that naturally fit just like the processes of transitions or finding freedom for oneself. In viewing the video one can discern the creases and folds and that the spaces the fabrics are captured in and the vocals give the piece a sense of melancholy and pensiveness that is as fleeting as innate thought and as memorable and palpable as the sounds that emanate from the video. Also pensive and poetic, it is a piece that is finished with a measure of the stillness of the moment and the capacity for discovery that it gives the artist. The piece is also a piece that is about the rediscovery of sound and thought as acoustic texture that can stitch together moment from another, but also one moment of discovery from another. The camera seems to capture images from the same angle, but as the video unfolds, the play and lay of the images reveal and conceal energies and feelings from one moment to next as if the camera peels off the layers of fabric.

The video piece in a certain measure anchors the exhibition, in that if borders in the video piece are frail, in the canvas on acrylic pieces they are concrete but they are also about disintegration. In some of the pieces the artist collaged dyed silk on canvas with acrylic paint, by removing the area where the fabric was, the area with effect of the acrylic not only concretise borders within the pieces, but it also reveals a frailty about them, that is not just about discovery, they are also about rediscovery in the sense that, without the area where the fabric was the passion and drama of the melancholy or pensiveness would be barren of the sense of freedom that connect them.

This in effect is characterized by the large canvas pieces, where melancholy of disintegration in the printed areas and passion of the bold and delicate strokes on the periphery of the piece combine and render the mood of the textures in the pieces to disintegrate and transmit characteristic of a discovery. An example is the blue and white rendition acrylic piece with delicate white strokes on a blue disintegrating to a pale blue with an ice white area where a fabric was imprinted and made bold with paint. At the top of the painting bold white strokes not only give the recesses of the piece depth and borders, but they also enable the techniques to connect, as if to capture the drama of discovery and relinquishment, but also rediscovery and the freedom that it can connote.

On another piece, rendered with orange, yellow, a green background for depth and a subtle white on the imprint to make the piece unfold or disintegrate with the same effect of peeling off the layers evident in the depth of the piece or the folds of the fabric.

The imprints also are rendered with a spontaneous character of their own, with a measure of the haphazard, that when the artist seeks to find lines that the combination between the eye and hand cannot find, but can only be achieved through the facility of intuition, the operation between the freedom of the heart and the hand, the freedom that the fabric affords and operates like an extension of both the heart and the hand.   This is also characterized by the imprint floating on a dark blue finished off with light strokes of white, here also the connection between the imprint and the periphery of the painting is stitched by the borders of the imprint, but in no way is it a clash of statements, it is rather two surfaces telling the narrative of melancholy and discovery or rediscovery.

When the writer states that the pieces are about discovery or rediscovery, alludes to the process of the art works, how they differ is how they are connected, both through the depth or the layers of the piece, but also through the finished touch, where two spaces in a piece are rendered in different shades, but in no way are they oppositional. That even the viewer is forced when looking for dimensions in the work to glean or discern the folds and lines depending on which section of the exhibition one is exploring.

Most striking are the collage pieces, bold and multidimensional, but also rendered with an elusive delicacy that also requires one to find meaning in the border, the folds and lines of the pieces. This is the case with the collage piece with the canvas framed on a board rectangular in shape, this is one is comprised of pieces of discarded cloth, stitched together on blue background, it is multicoloured and dramatic. Here the stitching is that which comprises the borders and folds of the piece, the colours are that which unfold the measure in the finishing touch where there is no clash between the pieces of cloth, where looking along the structure of the piece imbues it with freedom and the stasis of discovery. The narrative of unfolding is that which is characterized by how the piece adds a dimension to the facility of canvas, again in a measure where fabric is that which is an extension of the hand and the intuitiveness that is connoted by melancholy and the rediscovery that reused material can imbue the process of creation with but also the process of viewing as well.

The pieces that are rendered with the silk fabric on them are also imbued with a measure melancholy that is rather palpable and incapable of renouncing what is affective about them, that their individual or collective narratives are that which characterize the notion of unfolding in the piece, but their poetry, since the actual fabric is imprinted on the canvas, it is a palpable and emotional, motional narrative. For example in the piece with the navy fabric, the dripping line of the paint and of the fabric as well are that which capture the extension of moments, but the creases of the fabric and their delicacy are that which rendered it elusive and individualistic, in the sense that to search or discovery is something that is given, that the white lines on the blue are signs that to search is to rediscover old paths, but no crease is the same, no stitch and no material is infallible.

Some of the pieces with the fabric resemble landscapes, as if the artist was thinking or feeling of ‘other’ spaces where melancholy and discovery are possible, for example the piece with the green silk is rendered in the moss green that resembles certain seashores, or certain hills. It is also multidimensional and emotive, where what is unfolding is not just what concerns being, but how being occupies the spaces between the searching and discovery, but also her or his dependency on individual expression. Where it is not just about the moment in the now, but what has been accrued by her or him. That boldness that the silk is rendered with is not lacking any delicacy but it is not lacking any assurance, both of searching and that rediscovery is itself filled with a measure of memory.

The paintings for the exhibition at AVA, “Half light and shadow” are from an ongoing series, “weaving and unwoven”.

The images are made on canvas with acrylic paint and various media and are found in scribbling, drawing, dripping, pouring, layering, scratching, polishing and painting. They are tracked into the surface and found in the pigment and handwork. Like an archaeologist finds bones and fossils in the rock and earth, the images are found in the surfaces laid down in the specific scale of format and cloth. The grids of line and colour are built as threads are on a loom; however, with water based paint the movement allows for both “warp and weft”, horizontals and verticals, to be placed at the same time. The paint responds to the media used in priming or preparing the cloth. The images are built by securing a structured scaffolding of drawing in order for the colour to be used easily, to play and move the eye into various narratives.” Light-lee” and “Leeway” are based on grids made of squares. This geometry and structure gives me mobility to layer, draw and find the rhythms. The process is similar to selecting and moving words in a sentence or sentences in a paragraph or notes in a bar of music, bars of notes in a sequence of sound.

The limited colour and use of extending tonal values slows the process and draws on the imagination. The process is meditative and dependent on time spent making and looking, seeing and thinking.

The darker work hides as an octopus does waiting to come to you when you allow your eye to penetrate the “ink” of camouflage and while we wait the light moves and we see more. You will feel included and touched by these places. This may be a metaphor for the meditative depth we may seek in our own lives.

(References from The Soul of an Octopus; Sy Montgomery)

The indigo and blues/green are for me in a lower frequency. I don’t know much about the science of sound but I feel the levels of frequency and the rhythms of colour. I hope the colour in this body of work brings calm and restfulness so that you can lose yourself as you explore and discover, quieten and open your heart, breath slowly.

The scale of this work relates to my engagement in the relationship between the personal and the collective. I look at this in context of ideas of “the anima mundi”, the concept of “as above, so below” and as an everyday task. The aloneness of my studio with my work is quite different from participating in a workshop or project with others. My work is different and the combination when found in one piece is what I look for; the large image made of many tiny multiples of colour and mark remind me of the cells, the connective tissue, the bones to the whole body of a person. The person to the friend/s, community, place; The one star with all the other stars, planets, black holes, galaxies in the deep, vibrant universe etc.

The world of shadow is one of transition where one may see more in the half light or twilight than one does when confronted with sharp colour and commentary. These paintings may feel unnerving but they indeed safe places. The images invite you into a quiet place which is usually avoided because of stirrings and arousals as in dreams, memories, reflections! It is in this zone that changes in awareness, consciousness and thinking can take place. By mobilizing our imagination, we mobilize ourselves and find others.

The reference to “weaving and unwoven” is from the book H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald and comes from a manuscript by T H White, King Arthur in the cottage. This is a reference to initiation ceremony.

Paintings have a parallel for me with Initiation ceremonies; each painting is a new beginning. This reference is also used in the work that will be at the Irma Stern gallery in October 2016. “Unfolding into spring”. Spring is the entrance to another year, a time of initiation, of waking again into the warmth of the sun after a quieter and internalised winter. Also a time of the first equinox.

The work for the Irma Stern show is based in a poem by Rudyard Kipling, “the feet of young men” and refers to the Valley of the red gods. This is place on top of Table Mountain that carries a stillness that I try to bring into my paintings. Another reference would be Michael Fried’s essay on the idea of “Presentness” that some paintings are able to share.
These new images have reference to previous work and move forward with a fresh pace and commitment to painting and object making.

Jill Trappler
August/September 2016

Half Light and Shadow Exhibition

2016 Half Light and Shadow














The paintings for the exhibition at AVA, “Half light and shadow” are from an ongoing series, “weaving and unwoven”.

The images are made on canvas with acrylic paint and various media and are found in scribbling, drawing, dripping, pouring, layering, scratching, polishing and painting. They are tracked into the surface and found in the pigment and handwork. Like an archaeologist finds bones and fossils in the rock and earth, the images are found in the surfaces laid down in the specific scale of format and cloth. The grids of line and colour are built as thread is on a loom; however, with water based paint the movement allows for both “warp and weft”, horizontals and verticals, to be placed at the same time. The paint responds to the media used in priming or preparing the cloth. The images are built by securing a structured scaffolding of drawing in order for the colour to be used easily, to play and move the eye into various narratives. The limited colour and use of extending tonal values slows the process and draws on the imagination. The process is meditative, slow and is depended on time spent making and looking, seeing and thinking. The world of shadow is one of transition where one may see more in the half light or twilight than one does when confronted with sharp colour and commentary. These paintings may feel unnerving but they are not violent and do not carry fear. The images invite you into a quiet place which is usually avoided because of stirrings and arousals as in dreams, memories, reflections! It is in this zone that changes in awareness and thinking can take place. By mobilizing our imagination, we mobilize ourselves.

The reference to “weaving and unwoven” is from the book H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald and comes from a manuscript by T H White, King Arthur in the cottage. This is a reference to initiation ceremony.

Paintings have a parallel for me with Initiation ceremonies; each painting is a new beginning. This reference is also used in the work that will be at the Irma Stern gallery in October 2016. “Unfolding into spring”. Spring is the entrance to another year, a time of initiation, of waking again into the warmth of the sun after a quieter and internalised winter. The work for the Irma Stern show is based in a poem by Rudyard Kipling, “the feet of young men” and refers to the Valley of the red gods. This is place on top of Table Mountain that carries a stillness that I try to bring into my paintings. Another reference would be Michael Fried’s essay on that idea of “Presentness” that some painting is able to achieve.

These new images have reference to previous work and move forward with a fresh pace and commitment to painting and object making.



I see the dreams of water, I see water dreaming.

I see the dreams of water, I see water dreaming.

The four paintings, called “I see the dreams of water, I see water dreaming” flowed onto the canvases one after the other over a year or so. There was no tension in the making but rather hours of interaction with surface, water and paint. Each painting was received by Clare, the composer with such enthusiasm. Her four compositions, “floating underwater in the sun”, “floating underwater in the shade”. “Floating underwater in a twisting river”, and “floating underwater in forested rock pool” plus the corresponding image were then sent to Darius in Lithuania: Darius in these recordings plays the birynė virtuoso (the birynė is a traditional Lithuanian reed pipe).  I cannot explain how they heard the colour and movement that I was working with but they did. Nick immediately saw the potential for a multi media digital piece made from taking photographs of each painting and using the music to frame the movements. Nick has delicately shifted the mark with the rhythms into gentle adventures for the eye. In all, time is suspended, there is reflection which seems to speak to the dynamic between flow and movement of paint, sound and its intimate relationship with colour, the breath through the birbyne, holds the earthy material like quality in the paintings.  Is it light and texture that keeps matter so fluid?
Jill Trappler –

The four Floating Underwater pieces seek to reflect the sensual flow of water in Trappler’s paintings. The gentle, wooden sound of the birbynė seemed to me to fit the movement of the paint on the canvas. Each piece is written to capture one or two aspects of a painting, seeking to evoke sunlight dancing on moving water, for example, or a moment of repose in quiet blue, the dark undertows in a rushing river, or the playful twists in a swirling rock pool.
Clare Loveday –

The creative ideas of two South African artists – Clare Loveday and Jill Trappler, who inspired me as a performer and interpreter, were like a voyage into an unknown land. The unpredictable and bristling structure and melodic flexibility of Loveday’s compositions echo perfectly Trappler’s visual ideas and brought me to the yet unknown spaces of senses and colours.

While interpreting and making recordings I used two “scores”: the sheet music of Clare’s works and the photographs of Jill’s pictures. All of this helped me to include the third element into the creative process, namely, my instrument, the birbynė.
Darius Klisys –

The way the art, music and motion came together felt like a very natural process. I felt that the video should echo the musical and artistic journey and not hijack it. There was no real brief, so I just immersed myself in the art and the music and followed the path.
Nick Potgieter –

February 2016

Many writers, poets, musicians and visual artists have been struck by what is uniquely and ineffably African, and tried to express this in their work. One feels the African geography and all the people who inhabit the landscape most acutely when staying in other parts of the world. Although each place has its own spirit (locus genii), for me it is in Africa where my sense of colour resonates most naturally with my surroundings; the frequencies and tones become visible in my work. Being African is the most profoundly distinguishing factor to have informed my visual language.

Jill Trappler, February 2016

“This is where we meet”

“This is where we meet”

An exhibition of paintings, KZNSA gallery, Durban, May 2006

There is something unique about a meeting place, a “metaxy”, where personal boundaries coalesce and open up an offering for interaction and discovery. This exhibition explores the “in between space” or intermediate region where we meet. I have used paint, canvas and paper.

The transformation of raw material into cloth and its transformation into clothing, (leather, silk, appliqué, weaving, ikat) all carry a tiny content of the people engaged in their creation and the people who wear them. They suggest another time and place, other lives lived, a reality carried by their patterns, textures and colours. They beckon one into an intermediate space.

I hope to create such a space between the images I have made and the viewer. The pieces on this exhibition are reminiscent of cloth and clothing and the illusions they evoke honour the between place. They too demand a place of encounter, a meeting place.

Such an interactive realm may also be felt when a table cloth is laid out as a setting for people to meet. You see it as the light plays on water, filters between leaves, as you swing in the air or ride a horse through the grass. I feel that space when I am in a concert hall waiting for the sounds that link us, one to another. This has a kindling effect, drawing one in and creating attention and anticipation but allowing you to be completely alone at the same time.

The clothes in this exhibition have been worn and loved. Their body and surface engender memories through images and feelings. Their colour and texture add to a sense of location by their weight and presence.

This is a continuation in my search to make the “between” place a visual reality that carries with it both immediacy and continuity.

In previous work I have reflected on this space from different view points. The “breathe” series used the image and idea of the sound and flow of life and the living between you and me. The “jetty” series created connections between water and land, a place for boats that are going out and returning home. “Stoep”, a series which carries a myriad of associations in the South African context where people meet, hang out or polish their stories rhythmically into the surface. In all cultures there is a place between the privacy of the home and the vastness of the outside world, where visitors are welcomed, where outside and inside are woven together in new beginnings. In another series I used doors. The series “inside/outside” is the visual experience of transparency where the luminosity of the object is experienced in itself, a kind of awe in the light where luminosity and numinosity go together. “Soft voices” is a series of small drawings in the shape of airmail letters and the “music” series plays with sound and image as the connecting principles.

In addressing these spaces I look for that place of greeting where events or incidents or transactions have happened and where time stands still full of the memories of meetings.

Jill Trappler, 2006

Ruth Prowse

Ruth Prowse, June 2015

While thinking quietly about this presentation I was prompted from somewhere to say the following;
Ruth Prowse School is an institution that offers freedom of movement in a structured nurturing environment, encouraging the development, growth and deepening of creative potential and giving the students skills and confidence to move forward in their chosen careers!

That came spontaneously after spending two weeks working here and may sound like a mission statement or serious sales pitch but it obvious speaks straight to the heart of the matter.
Last week I worked here with 19 artists from various countries in a Thupelo workshop. Some of the staff and students were about but we were able to use the space and equipment as our work required. An artist from Zimbabwe used jackets as a metaphor for his work and I thought how appropriate this was in relation to this school. The school is like a patched and well used jacket with many colours and many pockets, some with specific content and others with surprises.

The jacket for me is the school; well maintained and full of history. It is worn by the Board of directors, the director herself, the staff in the office, and the staff on the ground, the staff in the library and in the studios. The studios are the pockets; each pocket is active morning, afternoon, evening; students pop in and out of pockets listening to lectures in one, painting in another, googling cyber space, reading books, sewing on machines etc.; many pockets always busy. The jacket remains intact, well-kept and it invites the curiose.

The cloth of this jacket has a promise and ethos sewn into its seams and folds and creases. These are the embedded curriculum of art as concept, art as tangible object, process, method, material. Creep in if you have a head full of ideas and a heart for adventure, this jacket will embrace you. In the pockets you will learn specific techniques from one teacher and theory from another. The overlap where art meets craft is encouraged as are originality, language skills and personal confidence.

If you listen closely you will hear intimate conversations between students, between students and teachers and laughter too. At times stillness vibrates with the intense concentration of work. Focus is encouraged and instilled as each student and the work at hand are given attention and consideration. The students frown and growl on occasion; that’s what students do and they make changes, make us wake up and get with it! But they do this in the warmth of the jacket.

The inner lining shows me more; the inner and outer worlds of creative expression are respected. Eunice, the director is hands on and quite specific in her requirements around the working of the school and the individuals. She told me a personal story that makes sense to me as a teacher and artist. (This really happened it is not a story I made up or a metaphor) Her passion is print making; she continues her practise and exhibits her work when she has an opportunity. This is not separate from her teaching; she caught herself during a week of “too much to do” popping in and out of her class and telling her students “what to do.” On reflection she realised this was not focused, not on! Eunice started working in the studio with her students and talking about what she was doing, how her concept was developing, about materials and technique, and how her images were taking shape. The students worked and talked and listened. After a few weeks the work was assessed and the deepening of content, the understanding of skills had taken an unprecedented step ahead of the previous work.

This for me is how it should be; we learn and teach by example, interaction and exchange. The work on this exhibition is made by first and second year students, part time students, outreach project students, staff and some of it has been selected from the Thupelo workshop. The exhibition was curated by staff and students keen to assist. There seems to be learning and mentoring in each stitch!

I hope you enjoy and celebrate this space and this work in the spirit of generosity and inclusiveness that has made it possible. You are welcome to pop in and out of the pockets, engage in conversation and perhaps enrol in one or more of the courses, taking your place in the embrace of this unusual and highly functional jacket.

Notes for walk about

Unfolding her
Ava 2015

Thank you for joining us in discussion of this exhibition. I would like to give you some information and context then I am happy to have a conversation about specific pieces if you have comments or questions. The catalogue is an integral part of the exhibition; I have not given individual titles to the images.

Context; I am artist making art in Africa. This means that I am physically involved with making work in my community; it is a life style and constant preoccupation.

I am part of a tradition of painting and cloth that feels as if it will be everlasting and goes back a long way in the history, as we know it. In the vastness of colour, the floating shapes and lines there is always a reference to here and now.

For example in the DVD we are brought into now by the fall of the silk.

This exhibition opened on the eve of freedom day;

This was synchronistic and indeed appropriate. Making images is the place where I am free.

Reference to an essay by Mongane Wolly Serote; he is an elderly family friend.

“I know a generation after me will perhaps be witness to a moment when art from my country will be free from being “black art’ or “township art” or “tribal art” or craft. But this can only happen when Africans themselves free it and themselves… it is when this art contributes to liberation, to a rebellion, to a reawakening of the Africa, and when the African claims and freely creates an art that expresses this freedom, that art will be liberated” (1999 museum of African art New York.)

Please consider visiting other solo show sin cape Town that re up now.

My work is made with various materials, matter that is physical and creates references to place, touch, memory… liberating the spirit from matter so that it can communicate. In previous show when I explained the concept of the “sefi.”


A canvas is a cloth as is a piece of paper.

Chris Spring quotes El Anatsui in his latest book, African textiles today;

“You know you can memorialise a lot of things in cloth instead of having a statue in bronze or marble; in fact, these days cloth is loaded with so much meaning that it is rare to go to a cloth market, for instance, and find a cloth which does not have a name. And the name is not something that has come out of the blue, it is something tied to that place or a person or an event that, when it is mentioned, you know what is being referred to- it’s something in the environment. “

Two points or clues to referencing work given on two kanga cloths from Kenya

“Welcome stranger” and “you know nothing”. Kiswahili

This is an approach I like to have with my work and myself. It helps to loosen or even free myself from assumptions and preconceptions.

When I “muse” and find ideas while working that click into the images, I dance with the image so that a visual literacy is found and communicated.

I have had time over the past few years to sit quietly and I felt ready to give attention to the feminine principle; this is not gender based at all as the feminine floats with us in the matrix of life and needs to be encouraged to play a more prominent role.

In this work I am looking at an internal softening. It came together in loops not process or intention; I saw the connections, the fascia tissue months into the making and two and a half years later saw that it was a body of work that could be installed as an exhibition. My friend Anthony and I put it up in a day and nothing wanted to go home or be replaced!!

I work alone and with others. The relationship between the personal and the collective is significant. (Ingrid De Kok writes about this in her poetry and reflects on the tensions this addresses especially as we process our history.)

Seeking the feminine I found the little girl person, the maiden, mother, madam, matriarch, crone, some animal some human. The light of dawn, young light, is with us before the sun comes and pushes the day into being present. This is a daily physical process, a rite of passage.

In the catalogue I write about the silk from a cocoon, the skin from a snake. These are all metanarratives that talk to me while working but are not readily evident in the art work. I found a floating upside down cat embroided in a blue space; I look for the cat in the constellations at night. When I paint I smell the crickets behind the waterfalls on the mountain; they are dressed in the perfume of geraniums. The chorus of frogs, are at ease as I walk past and listen attentive to their singing as the moon rises from their mushed up leaf beds; The music of the mountain at night. Greeting MA in a shudder of nature; can go well, can go well say the frogs.

I look back and move forward at the same time. I work on several pieces at the same time. It brings a presence, not an agenda or name or issue.

I find in this work a floating of surface which is a strengthening of purpose but know that I will revert or extend or somehow find a way to play this out in another way. Loosening the familiar opens up but looks for new ways of describing.

Modernist constructs still guide me in that the structure, intelligence, line, mark, scale, format, surface, shape, colour are of primary significance. The work needs to be autonomous, hold its own, like a piece of music or a book. The maker is only here to give it context perhaps and find answers to questions where possible.


Innana myth. Salome, the seven veils. Veils of Medusa.
Redemption of the feminine; from Jung
National geographic; Halla Fels, from Eithiopia. Verna hertzhog, the cave of forgotten dreams.
Making art in Africa. Polly savage.
Caves of silk….?


PS; this is not what happened on the day!

Jill Trappler – written Interview with Sarah

Much of your life as an artist has been spent in the field of teaching, is this something you’d always intended or something you found after learning art? What do these Workshops mean to you and has your family always been involved in such programmes?

I can’t image a time called “after learning”. I understand your question but when I am teaching I am educating myself in public. They go hand in hand. This is why the workshops work so well. The teacher/ student principle is questioned and many answers present themselves. Thupelo is a Sotho word meaning “to teach/learn by example”. I have tried to stay with this concept in my teaching studio.

I started off teaching craft. This was because it was a potential income producing activity. I taught at Fuba and at Baragwanath hospital. The emphasis was always on creativity, making and doing, thinking, writing or speaking about the experiences and images. The participants had to choose the colours they wanted to work with and draw their own designs. I was mostly working with demoralise people of all ages. They were either ill, recovering or from challenging social environments. I taught in a similar way in Cape Town. This grew into talking about administrative structuring and marketing. Many co ops developed in this way and then the original students started passing on their skills and abilities. The model has always been one from the ground up and not top down, therefore responding to needs and growing and reshaping. In Cape Town I started drawing sessions in our home, working mostly from a model. My family was very much part of these sessions. These were always interactive sessions based on exchange. The workshops, as in Thupelo, have also been deliberately interactional. By this I mean that artists from various backgrounds and experiences can work together. The teaching that I do at summer school is much tighter in that I focus on specific areas of looking and making, as in ways of drawing or what motivates us as artists etc. Next year I will concentrate on the reclining female nude which is provocative conceptually and aesthetically and very interesting historically. I base art on experience rather than principle and use surface, concept, aesthetic, colour, and drawing etc. as a measure of quality. My family is involved with what I do but their interest changes as they grow.

Wasn’t being a teacher something that you started off wanting to be?


How much of your work comes from visual memory, do you ever use photographs or paint from sketches?
As a painter do you often work in series…different moods, different inspiring moments?
Does canvas size help determine the painting’s contents?

it takes time to find what you are looking for.

In retrospect I find visual memory has influenced my work. I do work from sketches; I use a camera but rarely work from the images other than a reminder of an experience. Yes I work in series but there are many one offs and series go on parallel to one another. I usually work on unstretched canvas. I crop, as in movies, but if I work from sketches, as in the jetty series I make the canvas to the scale of the sketch, proportionately. By changing I throw my eye and this keeps it awake, away from preconception and habit.

How has your husband David influenced; supported; played a role in and affected your work?

How did your children affect or influence your activities and role as an artist?

They are aware and insightful, especially David who reads about image making and uses it in his work. He was at art school with me and there were many peripheral courses and reading going on, histories, music, literature, drama, philosophy, psychology, photography, printmaking, film. The disciplines were not separated.

Rothko, Motherwell and Pollock were all inspirations. Rothko’s use of colour is quite awesome. Did you also progress to abstract from figurative?

The figurative, non-figurative debate does not apply to my work. I work with both and apply the same question /answer process to decision making. Many pieces of art have inspired me and I try to work from the inside of many artists.

Did you start off in Johannesburg?

By 18yrs you were weaving professionally, what did this entail and what made you choose that as a medium. What place does it hold in your life now and work?

I have always been involved in the art world because of Bill Ainslie being my mother’s brother. We lived in Benoni and we used to go and visit him often. When I was a little girl I met Dumile Feni who lived there for a while. Their home was a gathering place. It was the only place where black people were coming to make art as they felt. My parent’s house was also a very creative place. We had a carpentry workshop, a sewing machine and many other possibilities available. In Natal there was a ceramics studio and spinning, weaving, knitting. My mother painted and taught art at the local school. My siblings and I all painted in various ways. As a teenager I learnt how to weave and my father made me a loom. David Koloane came and stayed with us in 1976. I was already in Johannesburg by then, working as a weaver and at art school.

You have to have a way of making money. I made things from very young. I can do all the handcrafts. Weaving was about colour and surface. I wove in clay or wire or paint and dyed or coloured the materials before or after. I also weave stories. Professionally I was very fortunate to find markets that bought the cloths that I made. They were very unusual, uncompromising but they worked! It is also a skill that is easily passed on. It is about time and moving with the mind and body, so is painting.

Yes, no I was wondering where the interest and skill came from because it’s quite a specific one and choice of profession.

There was a textile factory in Mooi River. I learnt from a Dutch weaver. We had sheep on the farm. Wool has many mysteries and histories that I can relate to. I learnt to make felt from a Swedish visitor.

I had a very enthusiastic art teacher at boarding school. She encouraged experimentation with many mediums. She also got me to read about art. I needed to make a sculpture in Matric…a cement sculpture of an eight-foot person. That was a wonderful experience. That’s been the thread. When I left school, I knew that I wanted to go and work in an art studio. My parents wanted me to have some sort of degree, so I studied through UNISA. I had two or three wonderful teachers. I think I got up to third or fourth year, doing some academic subjects and some practical subjects.

Is that the philosophy and art history and English?


I was doing English at the Johannesburg art foundation. My teachers included people like Curtis Nkondu, Lionel Abrahams, Michael Gardener and Robert . It was much richer than the Unisa work. It was the same with the history of art. Clement Greenberg and other art critics visited JHB at that time. It was very stimulating. The JHB Arts foundation where I was a full time student was a very dynamic and diverse place. I was weaving from 5am to 9am, five days a week. I was really lucky because I had two outlets. One was with Peter Soldaritis, a fashion designer and the other was Helen de leuuw. Money was short and I could work with what ever I found.

And what sort of things were you weaving?

I was weaving wool and cotton but I was inlaying it with colour and also not cutting. So I would weave the shape of the jacket and hand sew the woven edge.

Do you do that now ever?

No I haven’t woven for years. I still teach a bit of spinning. But the weaving is coming through in my painting. Some of my painting is woven in that I stretch pieces and then painted. Otherwise I weave colour onto canvas in various ways.

You also have drawings of woven materials.

I did that drawing in Uganda. Drawing for me is about how the eye moves; it weaves marks that transfer into information and rhythms. Colour is more about sound.

What was the question?

Oh yes, when did I start painting?

I only started really painting after I had been based in Johannesburg for three years – I started with drawing and then oil paints- two oranges or three eggs. Observational processes. Where do you get colour from? Etc. The other paint followed, enamel, acrylic, mixed media….

Were you making ends meet with your weaving at that point?

No – as a student I managed to live very simply and always in communes. I worked at Baragwanath hospital, the JHB art foundation, and at Fuba. I found employment as an unqualified occupational therapist. Working in clinics, making wagons to begin with, then drawing and weaving and paper mache, ceramics, etc. All the projects grew out of some kind of need. We used waste materials mostly, all low budget, some funding and donations.

How did you gain exposure over seas and was your traveling and international shows sponsored? Do you have an Agent or handle it all yourself.

I have been on a few group shows overseas. They were sponsored. I don’t have an agent and I sell very little.

In regard to the Internet, do you ever feed the sites about yourself or have little to do with your own coverage?

Is Cape Town your main audience and major source of sales?

I rely on galleries to cover the sites. My work does not reproduce well at all. Visitors come from all over and I enjoy the fact that my paintings find homes in such a variety of places, local, abroad, academics, hairdressers, policemen, museums.

What draws you to the point of Abstraction? Bill Ainslie’s influence appears strong in your work; what was gained in that relationship.

In the sixties and seventies art in South Africa was very closed, our society was closed. The soul was invisible and very afraid. Thupelo was started to open up an exchange between artists and that included visiting artists from various countries, Africa etc. (It is now part of a network including 23 countries.) Materials were explored, motivations and scale and many discussions were opened up. It was explorative. It inevitably moved into the non-figurative arena as it was opening up, loosening up and seeking both intellectually and in terms of image. Artists were given a chance to work without being told what images to use. The artists who worked in the work shops did not have to obey a market or institution and were not dictated to in any way. This was very liberating.

I like materials, I like to move in the making process and I like to find. This is linked to the idea of an image emerging. It links in to Jung and makes for ritual and meaning. It is not about me and the other it is about finding ways with paint and surface and image, of pulling it altogether, it has its own autonomy. So Bill Ainslie has been part of my life forever and the artists he worked with and the ground that his school covered have had a huge influence on me. It was interactive in the real sense of the word. The work is what mattered. I visit his work as often as I can and holds my attention, even after all these years.

Where is Trans figurative work valued in contemporary society? And in a South African Contemporary society?

I don’t know. Trans figurative was the name given to an exhibition of work, not curated but selected because it was not figurative. Firstly there is a trend about painting being dead. Is poetry dead, is the imagination dead? Secondly, it is a very small genre in the sense that there are very few people interested in painting, colour, sound etc.It doesn’t make so much noise and it is being eclipsed at the moment. There is enormous value that is not being seen in our society.

I think there is very little value placed on the arts in general and this is very sad. When we learn to write we stop drawing and looking and so at the other end of this line there is little value placed on image making and therefore no market. It reflects the barrenness that our souls have been part of and I work intently to change this in whichever areas I can. Art is not about trade and industry.

Has technology and digital progression altered anything in your frame of working or affected your place as an artist? How do you feel about it? What are your views on the avant-gardism and minimalist shock art and countless installations taking place?

I work with some of the concepts that photographers use, there are many overlaps and that is why I say that the “formalist” ideas are where they all cross over. I use film in my way with paint and the images I use. The best example of this that I have seen is Steve Mac Queen. I am limited by money, I would explore other medium if I could but I also think that working below ones means keeps creativity rigorous. I like all the intellectualism but do find that it is mostly a distraction from actually doing the work and that is where it counts for an artist. I read. It is very difficult to integrate the conceptual and the aesthetic, very few pieces pull this off. When they don’t they are defended intellectually. I don’t think that an autonomous piece needs defending in any way.

In terms of the show you curated at the AVA in 1997, you mention that there’s never been a full exhibition of ‘trans figurative’ works – would this include media such as photography and even digital installations if there were one?


From all I have read, I have only witnessed appreciative and praised reviews.
Ex. “She creates a sense of indeterminate depth, her spirit engages your attention.” 99
‘It is the tingle of inevitability, the thrill of integrated completeness…”Times 03 S
It’s hard to find reviews on you.

My reviews have been very generous and complimentary, but not extensive. The crits that I ask for are more stimulating.  I wish that more art historians would bridge images to audiences in the media.

I have seen that when I read the paper, there’s little coverage on exhibitions and art, there’s barely good movie coverage, let alone up to date art happenings

The discussions that I have had with the Argus are tiring. I am told that there is no readership. They write long reviews about opera and ballet. The arts editor loves opera and ballet? The Berger has good coverage, as do the M and G and the Independent. Visual arts have very few insightful writers. If it is entertaining or sensational it will probably be reviewed. I really like reading reviews on the internet, some of them are so well written it is as if you have seen the show.

I sometimes find unless you know where the galleries are and unless you go and check, I often don’t know what’s happening where; unless you’ve been told to go and see something. I popped into the Michael Stevenson gallery the other day just to see who was exhibiting now.

There is so much happening and artist need to talk more to get audiences to move. This is part of being interactive and inclusive. It is about the art world not the individual.

Even through an art institution there’s nothing, little information which informs us.

They’ve tried to do it through Art throb and Art South Africa but they’re not actually getting it. That’s the art history department’s problem; art historians should be reviewing work in a serious way. Galleries are not for the elite, especially the SANG. It belongs to us. The AVA work at changing this, through outreach programs and art night, etc.

Why don’t people like Andrew Lamprecht attempt it, they seem to have lots to say about art.

That would be good. He is an interesting man. Perhaps the newspapers don’t pay and they also cut reviews, which is disrespectful.

The few reviews I have of you are very nice and there are all these things about “indeterminate depth”.

I have never had a negative review. But writers get around that by trying to place the work in an historical context. Perhaps interviews would be more informative. Some gallerists are very well informed.

I was going to ask you that – there aren’t any?

I have had tough reviews but not in print. I call people in to talk to me like William Kentridge and Naomi Press. I miss Johannesburg, where we could easily mix with other artists and talk about the work, the attention was on the work. I find that very rigorous. It made me realize how little people look. There was some discussion with Cecil Skotnes around the “jetty series”. He had a problem with my metaphor. I spent some time sitting in his house talking to him and his way of working. It was a very valuable morning.

It’s the same with the music world – there’s a huge hole in Cape Town. Johannesburg is an absolutely different story for live music.

I really enjoyed my show at the Bag Factory in JHB. And at the Standard Bank. The artists helped to hang the show and gave opinions, made suggestions. It was friendly and busy and normal. In terms of music, Ray Piri explained how so much attention is given to the industry and so little to the music.

I would tend to agree in some senses. I am locating music for my shop and I know more about the company’s movements than about where to buy the music.

You were nominated a member of the AVA and are chair person now. Why the AVA and how does that help your status as an artist; and how much do you need status in the South African Contemporary Art world? What are your thoughts of the Art scene here and compared to the rest of the world?

I have covered some of this. I have been the chairperson of the AVA for a few years. I like to work in organisations that are artist run. The AVA is an independent body and can be moved and shaped, as artists/ curators need it to be. There is very little money involved and what there is has been very generously donated. I think this is improving. There is more money around. There are more bodies promoting visual arts, more artists working for one another. This has been happening in JHB but CT has a different history. The A.V.A has been a place where we have encouraged integration and exchange. VANSA will be a great help and I hope that I can mobilise more in the work that I will be doing for the NAC. Status as an artist keeps changing and does not hold much significance. It is often more about who is talking it up and what they have to say. It is the work that carries the weight and yet they are rarely talked about. I would like to see more shows where images of all kinds talk to one another.

Have you got any shows coming up or workshops?
Is the international market still appealing to you?
What are your next moves and current/ future inspirations or directions?
Is there anything else you’d like to try or do?

I want to do my work. I am an artist and work with artists. Next year is wide open like a new piece of paper. I work in my family and on various trusts and other initiatives. I will teach at UCT summer school and hopefully find a place to do other teaching.

Time in my studio is the real gravity.

Electica gallery; Claremont, April 2015

Welcome to “shades of mood.” (An interesting title indeed and having spent time in this space, with the work, I think it is very appropriate.)

Louis Nel, Mary Visser, Rick Becker, Helen van Stolk and Boniface Chikwenhete

Once again Margie has given us work from a carefully selected group of artist. The diversity is deliberate and the intention is clear; we look at work by four artists working on flat surfaces with different visions, different in content and application. Boniface compliments this with his three dimensional wood sculptures. This is a microcosm of the art world; in the 20th century artist were given permission to make art as they wanted to, to use materials and ideas in unique and varying ways. I picked up a GQ magazine recently and found an article about art making and galleries, giving advice on how to manage this world, this industry that represents our time and culture. (Nice that GQ is writing about art!)

The “creative industry” is growing in South Africa and I hope our minister and deputies of art, culture, heritage and sport will be able to justify asking government for a bigger budget. After all it is artists who are asked to entertain at public events, artists who have huge influence in education, health care and it is artists who can assist in integrating our society and playing a vital role in civil society as a whole.

The GQ offers a variety of approaches for engaging in the visual arts; the article gives reasons why we should visit galleries and purchase work; this all talks into the need for more exhibitions like this one. There are reasons to invest, to make a commodity of an art work or artist as emphasized in the article but I think there are other reasons too; education, lens based, theme based, issue based etc. are all part of the jargon but to simply look at each piece one finds and converse with it for me is reason enough.

This gallery gives us the opportunity to find ourselves by giving us different images to look at and think about how and why they were made. If you watch your self doing this you may not be able to walk away from an image, or you may walk away and wonder why you are walking back; that is because for you that image will be like a magnet to your heart and you will then need to buy it. That will be the best investment you will ever make! It may not increase in value or match the curtains but you will feel the mood of the image and you will want to live with it. It may remind you of a place or person, there may be an association with a memory, an incident or a wish. There are so many reasons to have images that you relate to in your home and your work place. They initiate conversation and change the prevailing mood.

Helen says on her web site that she learns from everyone; she can then make decisions about what she wants to paint and how she wants to paint it. It is this decision making that describes an artist; it is not the gallerist or the audience or the market. I feel strongly that art should not be in the service of anything but this is a very difficult notion to stay true to. It is wonderful when a work is sold and there is a need for more of the same but this kind reasoning takes away one’s personal reason and freedom for making images. What do we do as artists to address this difficult situation? Some make pot boilers because they sell and then build a body of work that they really like and keep them for a solo exhibition; others have a part time income producing activity that helps to pay the bills…. Etc. all the while trying to use the chosen medium more effectively; pushing ones practise is important.

I am not sure how these four artist work or live their lives but the work here is an opportunity for us to share in their way of seeing and doing; each one offering a very different sense of the world around us. They are by chance of a similar age and this is all recent work.

I can’t do justice to the work as there are time constraints but some of the clues and tips I give you may assist you in spending time with each piece.

Margie has written information and she is very approachable, so talk to her and to the artist themselves. The role of the gallerist is significant in this industry and I congratulate Margie on her careful selection and generous interaction with each artist that she works with.

I am familiar with Mary Vissers work because she is very active in having exhibitions and keeping us updated. She has a confident feel for paint; she scrapes and pushes, there is gesture and chance, her hand is right there in each action and for me there is a sense of well-being and fun; she celebrates her observations of life with paint. Mary uses city-scapes as references but allows her eye to pull and push shape and form, some taking on an abstract reference to space and in others there is a recognisable perspective.

Rick Becker uses paint differently but also works with paint because of the feel of it. The light in his work seems to come from inside the painting, (in the four landscapes). He uses his horizontals to ground us into his picture plane. To understand this one needs to refer to landscape painting through history; Constable and Turner for example.

Helen Van Stolk filters her images. She paints from life sometimes but has a need to tell us stories with images; of the city, life, people, daily activity…the marks flit and float; an impression leaving us with hints of what is happening and what might follow.

Lois Nel uses colour in a tonal, emotive way leading us into his deep land/water-scapes that sit quietly and lure us in to being with them. He probably works from photographs but there is a sense that he has been there, seen these places and so uses memory too. His work is evocative and poetic. He layers his medium and finds a mood that contrasts with Helens work.

Boniface uses found wood of various shapes and textures. He uses surface to seek out the form of animals lying within and waiting to be exposed. The image is found in a similar way to how Mary finds her images with paint.

All the work can be seen in broader context too; look at landscape painting; is Louis work like Constable or Pierneef. The abstract work; I ask, what are the roots and ethos behind the abstract expressionists, the geometric abstractionists; and how much influenced are we by the impressionist approach that I feel in Louis work?

This exhibition offers many conversations; with each work, comparing one with another and I hope with Margie.

I encourage you to invest in the career paths of the artists that resonate with you and watch the others as you may surprise yourself.