The notes below have been given to me from friends; they are informed by interactions that we had during my exhibition at Gallery South in Muizenberg. (February to May 2019.)
Some the actual conversations have been transcribed by Claudia Braude and are on the Gallery South website. www.gallerysouth.co.za
These notes include comments and observations by myself, Wolly Serote, Lionel Davis, Andrew Lamprecht, Claudia, various friends and fellow artists and academics. Visitors to the exhibition included school children and their teachers from an aftercare school in Worchester, visitors to walk-about sessions, audiences at three concerts, a session with musicians (including Tony Cedrus) and a performance with movement artist Hannah Lowenthal.
(Jeff Lok) What is meant by ‘game’?
This is one description of how Jill works. It is part of her epistemology. She uses the rules in the games as metaphors when painting. The rules of the game begin the painting. It is when the rules collapse that the energy in discovering things begins.
Jill Trappler’s art is not overt. It is however very powerful because it is about daily life: the ordinary. Her paintings achieve this dynamic energy because the viewer identifies what he or she finds intriguing, playful, and mysterious.
There is no obvious political message or propaganda that brays at the viewer. No agony of “The Correct.” Representation of ideology, coercing the viewer to officially sanctioned ways of seeing, perfect social orders and symbols of perfectly glorious heroes are not evident. There is no correct way, morally or otherwise to look at these paintings. Her paintings encourage exploration and freedom. The viewer’s eye is led to spaces that exist in their own time. Layered through dance and stillness, the paintings talk of consciousness.
“Are they not too lose?” a gallerist asks.
“are you not too much in love with your work” asks another.
Jeff and Jill continue;
Ironically, the paintings could be called iconoclastic because they contain no readily recognizable reference. There is no mystery about abstract painting. What they do is they allow one to breathe slowly. (optical breathing says Jill)
They decorticate the mundane. They do not admonish, as exit and stop signs do. Rather they request audience, and in so doing allow the viewer into spaces of play, dance. They are portals of the freedom of one’s being.
The freedom of the painting is not contained in the object: The freedom is what we see. The painting is everything else that it retains as the ‘not-seen’. This is its power. The object reflects to our retina, the mind intervenes and “talks” with the eye. Thus, the colour red is not what is on the canvas. What is physically on the canvas are wavelengths that are not what we necessarily identify as red. It is our red that we see. The viewer takes place in the painting, an important part of why we make paintings. If there is a function of Abstract art, (abstract is subject matter), it is what it tells us about ourselves. About how we perceive and about what we perceive. Abstract art is not a Rorschach test in which we bring our assumptions, preconceptions, biases, prejudices, as when as children we play the game of identifying shapes in clouds: “Oh, that looks like…” (end)
(Andrew Lamprecht): Locating Abstract art in the Age of the Selfie: We live in “the flat”. The age of the instant image, instant gratification.
“Is there any relation between people taking “Selfies” and Jill’s work?
In 2019, everyone is now a photographer-artist, because of technology. But in Jill’s work, there is movement and stillness that cannot be seen or done in a cell phone image, a JPEG. These (qualities) are not digital, this is the poetry and lyricism, an App cannot do.
Using the hand is something unique. We have lost something with the ubiquitous cell phone, something about looking.
The painting, the art object on canvas is flat. So is the JPEG. One is unique, the other is disposable. One is made from paint, the other from electrical impulses on a flat screen. The only thing they have in common is that both are flat.”
(Jeff Lok) The point of abstract art is to leave everything out. Ignore everything that is not “the punch”. That is, the eye-brain mark of the painter. The mark of the painter is the consciousness, the being, the thought of the painter. The one who leaves a mark for us to see. The painter shares their mark, their emotion, their sentience, their culture, their perception with the viewer, us.
(Jeff Lok.) The greens in the painting. Reds on left to greens to blues on right: Green forest yellow. The drips of paint give clues to the spaces. The taste and smell of chlorophyll. These are emotional spaces of safety. (synaesthesia, amnesia awaking, not anaesthesia?)
(Jill Trappler.) The movement crosses the work, it goes backwards, behind the painting or into the painting and forwards too. One must walk 180 degrees around the painting as it works from different distances; it focuses and refocus. The painting sees us, asks questions and shows us. There is no one entry point, no focal point giving you instruction. The space is made by the colour. The colour by the light with in the paining and the tones assist the eye to move. The contrast must vary in degrees of tone as well as colour to give form and movement.
We are not looking for what we are being told, we are looking to absorb and digest. The skill and flexibility to accept the movement of the eyes and mind. And then there is illusion.
Artists practise art and then do other things parallel to this practise. Be political, be a teacher, be a house keeper but practise your art separately in a free space. Resilience and resistance are necessary to hold the free space of the imagination; The imaginal realm where we meet internal and personal dialogues.
Levels of frequency; Stoep is on a level of the earth. Colour tells us this and the polishing movements that pulse on the surface. The spirit levels of a painting are significant and need attention.
(There are veils of colour. I dye scarves to see the veils catch the light and then I paint. Hannah feels the veils and dances with them. The veils are lifted from the eye as we see; scarves are lifted by a breath of air.)
Colour is not a substance, it is between the material and the immaterial, the visible and invisible, stillness and movement. How to bring colour into our consciousness. We must seek it out. Hannah and Tony assisted in this.
The spiritedness of making and doing takes me to the soul of colours.
Foundations of experience are needed to avoid and detect decorative, seductive, illustrative, designer, techniques; then the painting is a painting. A painting is not triggered by brand or memory or attractors. A painting is a new space, a one-off space that moves independently and has autonomy. Not like a photograph or a print…. what am I doing in a painting that I can’t do in real life? The eye is quite fast and often brings incontinence to the mind. There are tools that assist with visual literacy.
Mid-summer morning (2009) 175 x 250 cm.
Andrew Lamprecht: “This is the last painting on the walkabout. The calligraphic element is here. It is about play, and playing, bending the rules. The colours are juxtaposed in an ‘impossible’ way. There is a ‘block-ness’ to them. There is an incredible three-dimensionality to this. You want to dive in and spend the whole day there.”
Jeff Lok; Accidental drips from the outlines of buildings in a landscape. Impasto whites and reds. The roofs green. The trees? The design of the grid is angular and organic. The colour: Reds and yellows come forward. Purples are soft in mid-range. There is a wide mid-range of pastel shades: Purples, mauves, mid-browns, little ochres and orange. Not a sky-blue, it is a landscape without a sky. The whole colour-field is the air, the atmosphere. It is the colour of air.
JT: “My paintings are not limiting, not about negative and positive, there is no foreground and background, there is no focal point.”
AL: “There are no hedgehogs, balloons, trees here. There is sky. There is bodily, intellectual energy that goes into the work.”
AL: “Painters give massages to people using their hands. Paintings are massages. If a painting can do that, give you a massage, they can talk to you about yourself and your relationships. Jill works with her body. A performer in space, using her muscles to make a mark.”
Scribbling sand. Oil on canvas.
JT: “This is quieter than the others. These small paintings breathe in a normal breathing space.”
AL: “These remind me of David Koloane’s work.”
JT: “Yes, it’s the quality of light that comes from inside the canvas that is in his work. The light is not projected from one side (outside of the canvas). This is the link to David’s work; it has to do with the light.”
(AL) Touchstones to ourselves. Antidotes to ordinariness.
Notes and observations from Andrew Lamprecht and Jill Trappler in conversation, at the walkabout of her paintings, at South Gallery, Muizenberg, Cape Town 17th March 2019.
Claudia Braude: What needs to be discussed is the significance of Abstract work.
AL; I want to highlight the use of labels to describe South African artists’ work. For example, Abstraction is a “European” term. Is this borrowing of international terms appropriate for South African artists?
CB; Jill’s work is textually and visually part of a cohort of South African artists including David Koloane. Her painting is influenced through working with them.
AL; Jill walks a lot when she paints. Her paintings are about a dance, a bodily experience.
The calligraphic impulse is evident. My take on this painting is the block-making, the text. Also, the woven-ness of the mark, to hold the colour. Jill escapes the linear. The work moves from three dimensions to two dimensions: The inter-weaving of the mark-making is in the spiral, in this painting. (Joy)
What is the frivolity inherent in the rules in games such chess or the game “Go”? This frivolity is present in your work. Cat’s Cradle series is a good example. What is the game here? The work plays with its stretcher marks: which are usually invisible. You chose to show them instead.
JT; These are paintings, first and foremost. On canvas, on wooden stretchers. Space is the guideline, movement in space with colour. I use the scaffolding literally and metaphorically and often include the scaffolding/composition from other painters. Like the prosody of poetry, the composition in a painting can be found by looking at Auerbach, Rembrandt, Cezanne and many others including the very fine composition of Chinese painting.
Each image is framed and then reframed and yes, the stretcher is literally part of the framing. This is the underpinning that gives me a platform to move.
I hope that somewhere in these paintings there will be “mysterious and beautiful moment” that will apprehend you and make you feel human. They carry an optical breathing which is part of the knowledge or acknowledgment of art; different from understanding or comprehension.
Cat’s cradle series;
The series originated from looking at Auerbach’s Scaffold drawings from Rembrandt. The paintings start with the rules of the game, of transposing, copying, looking, seeking out, attraction, engagement, curiosity…. In the game, a loop of string is woven around and between one’s fingers, to form patterns. In the painting, the rules collapse. This is where the energy starts, where the energy comes from. There is a collaboration that happens between the actual game of Cat’s Cradle which is not to make mistakes. In painting, when you make mistakes, you find things.
Erasing, reducing, discarding and embalming are also part of the work.
The series started as ‘colour field’ paintings, but perspective and interiority became interesting. Line from the scaffold drawings made sense. Dancers use line to follow the rules of dance steps. In drawing, line is used in space, as in the choreography of ballet.
What “line” does can do is carry the eye. Mark does this in a different way often by making rhythms. Stitches in a tapestry do the same. They borrow the eye and take it on a journey.
AL: The work is not a “one-liner”.
JT: The work is fun; I try keep its freshness as I make it.
AL: The work keeps its dialogue with the viewer.
Jill’s paintings have a focal length. This term is useful to describe a point in front of the paintings at which focus is obtained, the point where the paintings make sense. This is different in each painting.
In a camera, the term usually refers to the diagonal measure of the camera film or sensor that receives the image, usually expressed in millimetres. This is the distance at which the image is in focus.
(20/20 vision is the focus from the measurement of 20 feet from the image.)
(CB) What makes the paintings extraordinary objects? Where in the South African Art context can we locate the paintings?
(AL) Current South African Art is about borrowing styles and motifs from other local contemporary artists. The subject matter is political and social.
(JT) My work, if it needs to be located in any tradition, comes from the group of artists that David Koloane also finds himself in. This group was and is active. The painting from this group is based in, embedded in Southern Africa and reaches back into the rocks on the mountains and in the deserts, into Europe, America, China, poetry, music and many other traditions and disciplines. It has borrowed, selected and filtered and felt, then new paintings are made.
Edited July 2019.