Student Review: Jill Trappler and Eunice Geustyn’s ‘Half Light and Shadow ’ Eunice Geustyn & Jill Trappler

By

AVA, Cape Town
01.09.2016 – 01.10.2016

The saying, enough is enough, is what comes to mind after viewing the collaborative exhibition ‘Half Light and Shadow’ by Jill Trappler and Eunice Geustyn. The violent heavily symbolic content of Geustyn’s work comes together with the psychological abstract work by Trappler in confusing contrast and unresolved paradox. ‘Half Light and Shadow’ shows that which is seen but unresolved in society alongside that which is heard and felt but rarely explored. There is an unfamiliar intermixing of styles, like a social experiment, which disorientates viewers. The disjunction between the two different styles and intent of the exhibition could say something about society at large: the way individuals manage to cope with the harsh realities by occupying the mind with meditative thoughts.

Eunice Geustyn, The Third Girl (Boys Night Out), undated. Hardground, softground and aquatint watercolour, medical suture thread on Hannemuhle paper.

Eunice Geustyn, The Third Girl (Boys Night Out), undated. Hardground, softground and aquatint watercolour, medical suture thread on Hannemuhle paper.

Geustyn’s work – hard, heavy, and violent in content -deals with issues of female abuse, rape, child abuse and the loss of innocence. Her mixed-media works distract the viewer with its intricate details and textural backgrounds. One is seduced and distracted by the use of watercolour, wood, medical suture, faded out maps and calligraphy on granulated paper and then smacked in the face by the violent message. This two-fold experience occurs once one becomes aware of the seductiveness of the artworks’ material value. This is like the media which produces stories and images of abuse in, often, over sentimentalised ways, which incite sympathy, but do little to change the action of society. The richness of texture seen in Geustyn’s work, is in many ways, metaphoric of recorded history: the lines and marks of South Africa’s violent history are like a tattoo which remain on the skin and shape the way society operates, sees and understands the world.

The ironic phrases written in Geustyn’s series The Third Girl –also a statistic that one in three girls is raped – emphasises the commonplaceness of the terms: “no means yes”; “have a drink” and “boys night out”. Her work brutally depicts these scenes with recognisable visual references; like two male figures, seen from behind, standing over an anonymous female figure. These phrases which frequently appear in the media, in connection with rape and abuse, are written in the centre of broken cogs, while each image has a different, almost, theatrical scene of rape. The ease at which the eye recognises these scenes, says something disturbing about the proliferation of rape and the ease of seduction both for the victims of abuse and the media’s ability to detach us from such images. Geustyn then layers into these image grainy textures like medical suture, and a ghostly hand print which disrupt the viewer, sending shivers down one’s spine at the thought of being stitched back together. The vulnerability of flesh is chilling as each image manages to invigorate the harsh reality of abuse.

Eunice Geustyn, Drawing a Line in the Sand(23 7000 and counting), undated. Installation view: AVA, Cape Town, 2016

Eunice Geustyn, Drawing a Line in the Sand(23 7000 and counting), undated. Installation view: AVA, Cape Town, 2016

Drawing a Line in the Sand is an installation which brings the exhibition off the walls of the gallery and onto the floor. Displayed scattered along a trail of sand are 23 7000 medical vials, some of which contain labels with words in them, whilst others have been stepped on and broken, forming part of the grains of sand. The number represents the amount of reported cases of child abuse a year in South Africa. The work entices the viewer to step over the sand, and engage with the words written in the vials. For the viewer, this becomes an embodied recognition to the statics which otherwise lie, far-removed in news articles.

The repetition of oval shapes, broken cogs (perhaps representing a dysfunctional society) and the serial are motifs in Geustyn’s work for the never ending cycle of rape and abuse. The recurrent, cyclical value is reinforced by the forty Victorian styled, funerary labels entitled When is Enough Enough? The top five labels, of the forty, have the engraved names of women who were brutally raped and murdered. The rest of the labels have the words “and another” repeated in each of them. Like the circular cogs, the repetition suggests that these horrific acts of violence are not over. Perhaps the artist hopes to make these harsh realities felt, and by bringing the stories and statistics to light in ways which confront the viewers stability it will make them realise that this is not as far removed as they think.

This repetitive layering is one thing in common between the artists. The grid-like structure, at the base of Trappler’s work has multiple layers of vertical and horizontal lines worked over it. Through the repeated structure one finds a sense of sequence and through the intentionally large scale a sense of the incomprehensible. The vastness and depth of one’s inner feelings, hard to reach and uncover are explored. Trappler’s work seduces one in ways necessary, as a comprehensive space to think about one’s personal responses to social issues such as rape. Her work creates a space in which the viewer can comprehend the shocking facts spotlighted in Geustyn’s work.

My reading of her work is foregrounded in the abstract art of one of the most well-known artists, Kandinsky. Through seeing Kandinsky’s representations of music one realises there is no formula to visually show music, but it is possible to use marks and colours in an attempt to express the way that music makes one feel. Likewise, Trappler, attempts to construct a visual language, capable of communicating the intangible. In her use of oils on canvas, she manages to transform this traditional medium from the controlled, formal representations most frequently seen in oil, to non-representational and personal expressions.  These ideas also relate to Geustyn in that, similar to Kandisnky, she transforms the sensitive, hard to express subject matter into provoking prints.

In Trappler’s large scale, abstract art, she attempts to reconstitute the meaning found in art, by using pattern and colour as opposed to mimicking nature. Her art is psychological, and attempts to explore the viewer’s relationship with visual images, by creating an abstract visual form she asks the viewer to make meaning of the varying lines, tones and colours without relying on any representational form. One cannot help but read this psychological aspect in relation to the material reality of facts, represented in Geustyn’s work. At first this suggestion may appear to be a stretch, but once one takes the time to see, feel and understand how visual culture need not be as fixed as we first assume it should be, there is valuable aesthetic insight to be gained from this unusual pairing. Insight that questions our understanding of art in our image-saturated world which instead of making us masters of the visual through our exposure to images actually, blinds us from the true power visual experiences can have.

Jill Trappler, Light-lee, 2015. Acrylic on-canvas, 140 x 392cm.

Jill Trappler, Light-lee, 2015. Acrylic on-canvas, 140 x 392cm.

Trappler’s artworks seem to investigate the layers which make up the mind, choosing to focus on feeling as opposed to logic of the mind. The alliterated title of the artwork Light-lee shows the loose configurations of a grid. The horizontal format coupled with the flow of shapes from blocks to spontaneously curved, overlapping marks reads almost as its own visual language. Like words written on a page from left to right, the viewer tries to decipher what they see, almost convincing themselves that the patterns are some form of made up hieroglyphic-type language. Eventually one understands that Trappler’s paintings are not intended to be deciphered by the tools we so frequently use to decode images. Instead her art lies in limbo, a space between formal imagery with an intended meaning, (like images in the media) and a serious exploration of the power of the eyes in constructing meaning and feeling.

The tonal hues of indigo appear fluid and spontaneous. This is similar both to the colours seen at twilight as well as the unexpected things we might happen to see through this vague light at twilight. This contrast of seen versus unseen relates to Geustyn’s work which explores the violent acts that most often occur out of sight to the public. Trappler looks at the feelings which are hard to acknowledge and even harder to express to others. The artist creates personal, visceral responses to the way she experiences the world. But these paintings are part of a network of society in which their meaning is adapted, shifted and re-established as a new object of meaning. Taken out of the artist’s studio and put into an exhibition the paintings take on new meaning, and forge new understandings, which is part of the trajectory of her work: instead of being like a taboo image in the newspaper her artwork aims to be far reaching and memorable after the show. Perhaps if the images we were confronted with on a daily basis were as deeply memorable people would think before they act.

Jill Trappler, Matrix, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 152 x 250cm.

Jill Trappler, Matrix, 2016. Acrylic on canvas, 152 x 250cm.

Matrix, a 152 x 250 cm canvas, is made with multiple layers, colours and textural details creating a sequence of pattern, colour and depth. She creates visual harmony in the soft tones of indigo. These colours are intuitively consoling as the varying hues provide restful spaces for the eyes. This is another similarity between the two artists: the way the visual, can seduce, repel, attract and tease the viewer’s perception. Trappler, a renowned weaver, seems to recreate the weaving process with her lines, but the controlled order of weaving, is given new symbolic freedom in her paintings. The freedom to reconfigure how we deal with pain and the choices we make as individuals to bring an end to this horrific cycle of abuse.

In coming full circle, the abstract paintings coupled with the mixed media works show the contradiction between light and shadow. The intangibility of a shadow, the light induced reflection is something which is symbolically dealt with in Geustyn’s work. In making the shadows of stories real it forces the viewer to interact with these cold facts. More importantly the exhibition provides an environment where one does not feel like a victim, one is not annihilated by the images but rather forced to accept the emotional rollercoaster of violence and the contradictions between facts and feelings. One can know something but not feel it and this show forces the detachment of rape into the realm of emotions and in so doing highlights the victimization of rape and the way it is perceived in society. This exhibition asks the viewers to take a stand, and draw a line in the sand, enough is enough.

Student Review: Jill Trappler and Eunice Geustyn’s ‘Half Light and Shadow ’

 

 

‘Unfolding her’

Jill Trappler

AVA, 30 April 2015

The other day Jill and I reminisced about when we first met, in 1986 – at the Thupelo workshop in Broederstroom outside Johannesburg. She went on to become an active participant and leader in the Thupelo workshops, the driving force behind Greatmore Studios in Cape Town and the Fordsburg Artists’ Studios (the Bag Factory) in Johannesburg. And she played a significant role in the formation and development of the AVA at a crucial time in its history. I have followed her career and wrote about her work over many years.

Back to Broederstroom – from its inception, the Thupelo workshops came in for a great deal of criticism from mostly white academics. I started speaking and writing about abstraction in general and abstract art by black artists in particular, in 1990. I was concerned about the emergence of a kind of cultural apartheid and the erosion of the freedom of artists to express themselves in the manner and medium of their choice; content, political involvement, “authentic” African imagery and figuration were demanded at the time. The purpose of my engagement was to suggest an open field for discourse and to challenge prevailing attitudes.

William Kentridge expressed similar concerns in 1990 when he opened Jill’s exhibition here at what was then the S A Association of Arts, Western Cape:

I think that there has been a tendency in South Africa of recent to pay particular attention to certain forms of image making over others and that there has been a predilection for work which is allegorical … there is a sort of tyranny of allegories which exists at the moment or which has existed recently in South Africa which certainly needs to be reconsidered.

Fashion in the world of art comes and goes – we call it the swings of the pendulum; one of those swings was towards the figuration that William mentioned; recently, it started swinging back to abstraction. Some artists work according to their own vision and volition; others follow international trends. One is not better than the other, it ultimately depends on the power and meaning of the work; Picasso was the greatest eclectic of the 20th century, yet his work can never be confused with that of another.

A number of South African artists, who started painting abstract works in the context of modernism, have continued to do so in a post-modern world and have carried the banner for abstraction, as it were: Nel Erasmus, Hannatjie van der Wat, Trevor Coleman; they were followed by the late Bill Ainslie and Kevin Atkinson; Louis Maqhubela, David Koloane, Ricky Burnett, Tony Nkotsi and Jenny Stadler, to mention a few. Sticking to their abstract guns then and now has sometimes been to their disadvantage in an art world hungry for the new and what is perceived to be contemporary. Galleries and museums have of course also played a role, with SMAC in Stellenbosch mounting a number of exhibitions, looking back to the past in the context of the present.

Jill has consistently practised painterly abstraction and her oeuvre reveals the astonishing variety and quality which can be achieved. Abstraction does not exclude reference to things that exist in the real world, but Jill has always insisted that she does not “abstract” from anything. She calls her work non-figurative, which is entirely appropriate; when I speak in general terms, I use “abstract” because it is most widely used and understood and in line with titles of major exhibitions, conferences and publications, of which there have been many recently.

Jill writes about this exhibition:

Employing several different techniques and media: printmaking, weaving, beadwork, painting, collage, this new body of work provides a vehicle that takes us into memory, stories, myths and innate places.

We are fortunate to experience her many expressive vehicles, as well as her intentions, in this exhibition – they take different forms but integral to her creative processes are the primacy of surface and physicality of material; they are the carriers and stimulators of meaning and emotion and they affirm the reality and independent existence of the artwork.

The varied surfaces and multitude of marks are deeply felt and experienced and they contribute to the very metamorphosis of material – paint that looks like fabric, fabric that resembles paint; Jill draws with paint, but also with thread and beads and strips of coloured material. Sometimes the choices appear to be contradictory as she moves seamlessly from form to form, from medium to medium – rough Hessian that supports delicate crochet work, all around an ethereal, sensuous centre. Delicate, real lace in one work finds and echo in another, strong and dark. The works become objects of ritual and magic, palpable yet mysterious. She explains: As a weaver by trade I know the significance of wearing colour, pattern and texture and the way they interact with ones sense of being.

Through an unusual mix of media Jill encourages us to think about the binaries of reality and artifice, and spiritual darkness and light. Some works are exquisitely delicate, others immensely powerful, but we should not be threatened or overwhelmed, for she writes:

The interwoven rock faces of the mountain enfold me, hold me as I wander and then return to work with a small surface in an attempt to describe, to give rise to, the Great Mother and unfold my spirit from her embrace. These journeys continue as the ancestor’s surface and the stars deliver their messages…

Her video work of images, sound and words take us into another dimension, another kind of experience. It gives expression to the notion of unfolding, with layers and veils of colour drawn back, opening and closing.

The reconsideration of what Kentridge called “a sort of tyranny of allegories” 25 years ago has been a long time in coming, but it is with us and it requires our engagement. Rethinking abstraction in South Africa is timely. The exhibition I curated recently at The New Church Museum – Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart – reinforced the importance of abstraction in South African art history, as well as contemporary production; it also raised a number of questions. What might the current swing of the pendulum mean in and for art in the country? Painting in general and abstraction in particular are being reconsidered and re-interpreted by longstanding practitioners, as well as a post-apartheid generation, and in the wake of this resurgence follow exhibitions and articles.

However, the danger of many jumping on the bandwagon – artists, curators, collectors – in an unthinking and opportunistic way already lurks in this moment of excitement and promise. Will South African artists continue to expand the parameters of the genre and show that there are many and exciting ways of arriving at abstraction in the twenty-first century, or will a veneer of abstraction settle in, again? Are we witnessing radical transformation or a rehearsal and a retread of art history that will serve to feed personal ambition and a voracious art market? Time will tell.

As for Jill, she has never had the need to be fashionable as a painter, and I imagine that she will always remain faithful to abstraction – to her particular kinds of non-figuration in the face of shifts and changes in the world of art. This exhibition is also timely, for it offers us an opportunity of looking at her work, enjoying it and assessing her place and role in South African art. But above all, Jill invites us to explore with her the notion of “foreverness” and to join her in the world of the imagination and of mindfulness.

Marilyn Martin

‘Unfolding Her’

The AVA is pleased to present “Unfolding Her” by Jill Trappler

Beneath it is all dark, it is all spreading, it is unfathomably deep; but now and again we rise to the surface and that is what you see us by.   

‘To the Lighthouse’ Virginia Wolf

In “Unfolding Her” Jill Trappler explores the notion of ‘foreverness’ in her non-figurative art practice.

Trappler writes:

The interwoven rock faces of the mountain enfold me, hold me as I wander and then return to work with a small surface in an attempt to describe, to give rise to, the Great Mother and unfold my spirit from her embrace. These journeys continue as the ancestor’s surface and the stars deliver their messages…

As a weaver by trade I know the significance of wearing color, pattern and texture and the way they interact with ones sense of being.

Employing several different techniques and media: printmaking, weaving, beadwork, painting, collage, Trappler’s new body of work provides a vehicle that takes us into memory, stories, myths and innate places.

‘BREATH’

JILL TRAPPLER at ASSOCIATION FOR VISUAL ARTS (AVA)
presents a solo exhibition of recent paintings
22 January to 10 February 2001

The Association for Visual Arts (AVA) at the Metropolitan Gallery, 35 Church Street, Cape Town, is hosting a one-person exhibition of recent paintings, “Breath”, by Cape Town artist and art educator, JILL TRAPPLER, in all three AVA gallery spaces. The exhibition opens on Monday, 22 January at 6pm and runs until noon on Saturday, 10 February 2001.

JILL TRAPPLER, in this exhibition, focuses once again on the non-figurative in her paintings. This has been her chief area of artistic output in recent years. She has chosen to be free of the burden of representation, of the material. Her concern is with pure colour, form, surface, texture and how these integrate, resulting in composition, structure and the use of space on the canvas or the paper. Her work is never ‘easy’. There is never a simple ‘explanation’ or a ‘message’ or an ‘issue’. There is no attempt at didacticism or the reduction of the artwork to a commodity, no attempt to serve ‘the market’; rather it is for her about beauty, seeing “the wholeness of eternity, beauty, usually unexpected, yet sought after. It finds your heart and your guts, it is breathtaking, abrupt, exhilarating, so fierce, so true that you wonder if you can bear it, but it is in the pattern of things, waiting to visit, in time. Then it is true. So, I try to find moments of this with colour, because it is in life.” Continue reading

May 2006 “This is where we meet” An exhbition of paintings, KZNSA gallery Durban.

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. Continue reading

Jill Trappler; an exhibition at the AVA Gallery, Cape Town, February 2006. “This is where we meet”

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. Continue reading

AVA Gallery 18 February to 7 March 2008 written by Estelle Jacobs

This exhibition of specially selected work, entitled Joe’s Choice, brings together the experienced, discerning eye of long-established art dealer, artist and collector, Joe Wolpe (born 1922) with the creative talent and artistic vision of renowned Cape Town artist, Jill Trappler (born 1957).

Fundamentally it showcases a tight selection by Wolpe of works, in a variety of media from acrylic on canvas to etchings, made by Trappler over the last three decades. It is borne out of a studio showing by Trappler in July 2007 and Wolpe’s abiding, strong interest in her extensive oeuvre. Continue reading

March 2008, Seippel gallery Johannesburg

We spent an afternoon and a morning putting this show up. It was not curated or even selected. I had five pieces from Joe Wolpe, three NFS and two others. Ralf Seippel, the gallery director had selected my work, Nicolas Hales and Howard Minnie’s work when he visited Cape Town in December 2007. He and I fetched Bill’s work from Fiekes home. Ralf knew Mbongeni Buthelezi and Malcolm Jiyani’s painting. This is the first in a series of exhibitions of abstract shows that he would like to do.

The gallery is a large warehouse space in down town JHB. The light through the industrial windows is soft JHB light that changes as the late afternoon storm clouds gather. Ralf was very clear on the placing of the work. Continue reading

JILL TRAPPLER at Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg 29 June to 23 July 2000

cWell-known Cape Town artist and art educator, JILL TRAPPLER, will exhibit a selection of her non-figurative paintings at the Tatham Art Gallery, corner Longmarket Street and Commercial Road, Pietermaritzburg, opening at 6 pm on Thursday, 29 June and running until Sunday, 23 July 2000.

Born in Benoni, Gauteng, in 1957, and educated at the Collegiate Girls’ Shool in Pietermaritzburg, Jill Trappler studied at the Johannesburg Art Foundation under Bill Ainslie and at UNISA. As a professional weaver, she worked in Johannesburg and London, and on Tristan de Cunha and St Helena Islands. In addition to setting up printmaking and paper mache employment projects, she initiated weaving employment projects at the Philani Nutrition Clinics in Crossroads and Khayelitsha. She established the Dorman Street and Valkenberg art studios and co-founded Greatmore Studios in Woodstock. She has often participated in and co-ordinated the Thupelo workshops, both national and international, in Johannesburg and at Community Arts Project (CAP), South African National Gallery (SANG) and Robben Island in the Cape. She has taught art extensively at Federated Union of Black Artists, Baragwanath Hospital, CAP, the Occupational Therapy Department at Groote Schuur Hospital, University of Cape Town Summer School, and from home in Cape Town, where she now lives and works. Continue reading