Weaving meaning through art with Jill Trappler

Jill strokes the brightly coloured tablecloth, gazing at nothing in particular. Deep blue paint is lodged under her chipped finger nails.

A weaver by trade, a painter at heart, Jill Trappler has been working in Cape Town as a visual artist and teacher for the past thirty five years.

“The one feeds into the other,” she says of weaving and painting, “it’s about colour, what do you do with colour. I want to make colour sing,” she exclaims.

Jill Trappler’s home studio on the third-floor of her house in Tamboerskloof in Cape Town. The paintings she is currently working on hang beside a table packed with bottles of paint, Trappler says she likes the mobility of water and the build of oil. “They are very different but the light and colour can be found with both mediums,” says Trappler. PHOTO: Aidan Jones

Jill drew an illustration for a story about a young woman from Gugulethu named Sibongile Sam as part of a book about the youth in Cape Town that documents the stories of remarkable young people in South Africa. It will be published in June.

“The story is of a young girl and it’s in a way quite a common story, where the father is dysfunctional and becomes violent. She objected to his violence and the way he traumatised her mother and her sister, and they eventually had to move out and it seems at the end of the story as though they’ve completely lost touch with the father.”

Jill readjusts the lid of the colourful teapot in front of us on the table.

“I, I struggle with stories like that because they are so, they are all over our country.”

Abstract painter Jill Trappler observes two of the paintings she is currently working on. Trappler says she has painted over it many times but is still not happy with the balance of the colours. PHOTO: Aidan Jones

She speaks about illustrating Sibongile’s story: “I drew the tree of life, and I drew the ribbon of hope, and I drew a well because women are the rock,” she says, swirling her hand and fingers before tightening them.

“I wanted her to have a sense of deep future, that it comes from a long history of people being traumatised, and it will, we’ll carry these things for a long time, but as an individual you can stand up and be quite beautiful and feminine and carry the caring and the nurturing aspect in oneself.”

Jill says she looks at the world through abstract lenses. “That is definitely the way I see things, non-figuratively, or so-called abstract, which is just a different way of making images. I think it’s just my eye.”

Visual literacy is something Jill says is very important to her. “I don’t really like, um, images that are didactic, that tell me how to think, I want to engage with an image. It’s those lower frequencies that speak into your bones almost, that’s where I’d like to work.”

Cape Town based artist, Jill Trappler, stands amongst the numerous canvases that lean against the walls of her home studio. Trappler opens and closes a bottle of blue acrylic paint, a medium she says allows the colour pigments to flow more easily. PHOTO: Aidan Jones

Jill leads the way to her studio, gliding through the living room and up the stairs. Frame upon frame, colourful canvas upon colourful canvas stacked against the walls. Tubes and pots of acrylic paint and paintbrushes of varying thickness lie scattered all over her work table.

A door on the opposite side of the studio leads out onto a balcony that overlooks the city. “The light streams in here at sunrise, so I just wait for it. The light changes as the sun moves across the sky, it throws different patterns across the studio.”

According to Jill, painting can and should be cathartic, it should facilitate growth. “That’s for me what a painting can do, it can connect with you on a different level and enhance your life. It takes you further, it makes you a bigger person.”

Her experience as a weaver has informed her painting and given it what she says is very deep textural elements that somehow surface.

Painter Jill Trappler shows one of her paintings of a pier in Velddrif along the west coast of South Africa. Trappler is an abstract artist who encourages visual literacy. She speaks of going on a journey with the painting, not just observing it as a two-dimensional thing, but as an entire world beyond the apparent.  PHOTO: Aidan Jones

“I learned this from a woman in Zululand, she’s a very famous weaver in KwaZulu-Natal who my father made a very big loom for. She had a little house and before she started on a new tapestry she spent the night in her little house and she said that her spirit went to find patterns and colours. And then in the morning she’d wake up and go into her studio and she knew what to make. And I think that affected my painting, because I just go and paint and I talk to my painting and it tells me, I kind of know where I’m going.”

Jill is also a teacher, but not in the conventional sense of the word. “I think it’s an interactive thing, it’s about exchanging ideas and skills. It’s definitely not about being a teacher in the normal way where a teacher has something to tell a student. So I always try and work on a flat structure, so I learn as much as I teach.”

There is a strong element of spirituality in her life that she says she shares with her family.

“It’s so important to keep that balance and very fortunately my family are very aware of the reverence in life, with life, to life and so that sense of reverence is our spiritual… it doesn’t have a name, don’t give it a hook.” – Aidan Jones

A drawing by Jill Trappler for the 2017 edition of the Cape Town Youth Book. The young woman in the drawing is named Sibongile Sam, she is from Gugulethu in Cape Town and hers was one of the 30 stories featured in the book.
PHOTO: Jill Trappler



Sorrel Hofmann at Irma Stern museum, February 2017.

Instead of geographical images on the pages in an Atlas, we have an Atlas of images filling the gallery. In both we experience the vastness and language that is not familiar; we find a word or a river, a point of location to start our journey. In the art works the abundance of information is refined into shapes, picture planes and surfaces touched by narrative. Informed by experiences, the work becomes the reality of the artist. Reality challenges preconceptions and opens us to journey with another, freely. Then “we will be what we are”, located at the beginning of a visual journey, Atlas surrounding us.

Beside the tactile facture there appears to be a “matter of factness” about the artist’s approach to her work. This is of the nature of a person with a divining stick in their hands. She wonders until the quivering starts and the divining stick vibrates with the subterranean streams. Or of a person who stands with a telescope and views the length of the desert, moves up to the horizon and across the sky, day or night, new moon or full moon. We are asked to zoom in, pull visual information closer in order to then “be what we are”.

This is the first solo show of work by Sorrel Hoffman. On her website, she writes;

“we will be what we are until we are no more.”

Navigating this exhibition suggests that we could reword this and say; we are no more, until we will be what we are.

The geography is expansive and overwhelming, the connection when it is made is specific and intimate. (Large shapes describe spaces and marks gathered hastily give definition; they seem to say, be here, on this surface.) Shapes give us direction and make places; we can say, “we will be what we are until we are no more” because the making of the image has begun and the shapes find their way into the shape of the format and tell a story, the story of why it is being made. It is a purposeful journey story of wanting to share with us and show us geographical situations.

The “matter of factness” that is apparent initially, changes to urgency; (the divining stick vibrates and we need to dig for water) Yet there is a slowness and deliberation in just how to relate the shapes to one another. There is not much overlaying, the shape is placed once, the line is drawn and left. Something is added or not. The images are built with an elegance and they are not about a particular thing or object. These references, these markers are skeletons for us to explore, stop, wait and resume our wandering. There are objects and the spaces between become places for the eye to glean and travel. Time is measured and temporal, directions unspecific.

Shapes describe place. The place in the shape of the format, a place within the shape, a shape within a place. Landscape.

The sense of happenstance is inverted by that of reality; in some of the images we are taken into the distance, (over stretches of earth, around places/objects, towards a mountain, over the horizon…) or we journey as if on the face of a compass, or we are directed left to right, bottom to top, top to bottom. There are no short cuts. The artist has been there, witnessed the place physically or through a lens. Her eye has been there and she leads us in this body of work to journey with her.

John Berger writes about “the shape of a pocket”; this is about a small pocket of resistance, resistance against inhumanity. In Atlas, this exhibition of collages, drawings, mixed media, prints and installation, we are presented with little pockets of information. They speak of the need for humans to respect the wonders of our world. The earth and especially the deserts, the clear skies, the shadows; the mysteries this all holds are shown to be so very precious. “we will be what we are until we are no more.”

The world in these images, is not empty but magnificently full, vibrating with a skeletal significance that we are encouraged to quiver with and absorb. We are asked to resist any interference or indignities that humans are possible of imposing.

These images describe Sorrel’s reality, her way of resisting the preconceived notions of the world. One of her fellow students in a drawing class observed that Sorrell “encourage us to be faithful to our way of seeing”.

Indeed, she is practising what she encourages in others and suggesting, gently what we too can shape up to, “until we are no more.”

Jill Trappler

Monday Morning Sessions

Monday morning sessions at Ruth Prowse school  start on the 6th of February and continue through to 10th April 2017.  (no class on the 20th March)
Please see details about the sessions in the 2016 information.

Unfolding into Spring

You are invited to
An exhibition of new work by
Jill Trappler
Unfolding into Spring
Opening Saturday, 8 October 2016 at 11am
Irma Stern Museum, Rosebank, Cape Town

image001Jill Trappler | Eclipse

Light, darkness and depth to mull over














The fact that visual art has the ability to communicate beyond words, almost in ‘another language’, gives it almost always the emotional edge when the subject is about painful issues or about the deeper human condition.

In this regard the fine, blue stitches of surgical thread, barely visible in Eunice Geustyn’s work of mixed media, are acerbic metaphors of the injured lives of raped and murdered women that she uses as a theme.

Where the needles are sometimes still visible in the picture, it reminds the viewer of how difficult it is to heal a community where such crimes have occurred.

On the gallery floor is a strip of sand and medical jars to remind us of the many neglected and abused children, like debris from the sea that we step over. As with the thin surgical thread, these glass vials are a stronger reminder of vulnerability than words can ever be.

Her piece, “when is enough enough”, consists of old style wooden markers with names – like at funerals. Women’s lives ruined and packed away.

Although Jill Trappler’s paintings which makes up the other half of this double exhibition, looks in their abstract style as if it belongs to another world than that of Geustyn, it maintains the same argument: physical presentation as a different multilingualism. Here the title of the Exhibition. “Half- light”, is very becoming.

Deep in the darkness of her linen boards, or even those anchored in white can the viewer sense light, darkness and depth. All is not what it seems at first glance. The viewer gets tested, cerebrally mesmerized, urged to decipher the story or message.

Trappler’s art has elements that one can read as a metaphysical presence and which is the hallmark of traditional and outstanding abstract art.

These huge paintings presents some of the strongest that she had done in a while. In their blatant presence they contrast perfectly with Geustyn’s poignant and inflammatory presentations.

Unfolding into spring

Irma Stern Museum
The University of Cape Town


Jill Trappler, Eclipse, Series: Weaving and Unwoven, 2015/2016, acrylic on canvas, 160 x 240 cm

Jill Trappler
Unfolding into spring

Opening Saturday the 8th October at 11 am
Please join us at the opening of “unfolding into spring”. A solo exhibition of new work by Jill Trappler
Walkabout on Saturday the 15th and Thursday the 20th October at 11 am
Closes Saturday 29th October 12 noon

Full details on the website: click here
UCT Irma Stern Museum, situated in Cecil Road, Rosebank, Cape Town
Gated parking in Chapel Road





UCT Irma Stern Museum, “The Firs”, Cecil Road, Rosebank, Cape Town, 7700
Telephone +27 (0)21 685 5686
Fax +27 (0)21 686 7550
Event enquiries: lucinda.cullum@uct.ac.za  www.irmasternmuseum.org.za

Tuesday- Friday from 10am-5pm, Saturday from 10am-2pm, Closed public holidays


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