Jill Trappler Water and the Moon

The exhibition Water and the Moon reflects Jill Trappler’s on-going voyage of investigation, discovery and creative exploration of non-figurative art making. Her continuing interest in exploring various facets of abstraction is accompanied by a determination to assert the materiality of the painted surface and the self-referentiality of materials used. This self-referentiality of materials is particularly evident in the paintings such as Mid-summer Morning and Joy where the visible brushstrokes, with touches of pure colour represent both the

mselves as paint and as the mirage of the unconscious mind. Both paintings assertively display animated brushwork and warm, joyful colours, emitting a shimmer that suggest an interior energy.

Trappler eschews fireworks and grandstanding opting for nuance and focus on subtle treatment of her subjects while imbuing them with an energy that vibrates in perfect harmony. By virtue of their large scale, paintings such as Open shade (150x240cm) Full moon calling (140X198cm) and beyond the wall (140x198cm) among others are endowed with self-assured authority to summon the viewer to attention from a distance but instead, they wait silently, if invitingly, for the viewer to make the first approach. As the viewer is drawn closer to observe details, the eye is led into a dance around patterns and spatial relations. The viewer is enticed into a conversation, where his/her world view and frames of reference are invited to add another level of meaning to the already embodied meaning thus acknowledging the creative and constructivist ability of the viewer.  

“My art is not only what comes out through me. It is what you see in it, that I may not realise. It finds its life in this coming together. Whatever I hold in common with you is what makes what you see my work possible. The work is not complete for me until you bring yourself to it. Here in this approach one is literally and figuratively a viable part. Those “separate parts may become that cohesive whole. (Burwell: 1997:49)”

Deconstruction disrupted the role of the viewer as a passive consumer of meaning and established a reciprocal role in which the viewing became an act of participation. The viewer now has a responsibility of producing meaning and has a role as that of the artist. Owing to abstract art resistance to narrative interpretation and the viewer’s using their own frames of reference to contextualise, situate, translate and interpret what they are viewing, a multiplicity of meaning are inevitable.

One of the significant aspects of art is the notion of transformation, that is, the transformation of pigment, found objects and sound among others, into new configurations, a new object, a new experience. Jill Trappler is a transformer; she can transform, elevate and awaken one’s consciousness.  She takes you out of the box and into expanded possibilities and assures you that it is ok to be vulnerable, to open yourself up and not to be afraid of the unknown. It is the responsibility of the intellect to protect us from the unknown. However, in her art making Trappler seems to trust her unconscious mind to lead her to true feelings rather than socially conditioned answers. In giving free reign to intuition rather than intellect she is opening herself to vulnerability and invites the viewer to join the journey to uninhibited creativity by mining the fecund landscape of the unconscious. A belief that embraces the unconscious, the non-academic, unpremeditated art making process and a heightened reverence for ambiguity, underscores abstract art.

Among painting’s communication devices (Colour, line, form, texture, shape, space), colour seems most highly charged and sharing a kinship with music in appearing to intensify emotions.

 While concluding the viewing of Jill Trappler’s exhibition, I became misty-eyed, an emotion I have no experience of while viewing works of art. It is an emotion that is often evoked by Jazz music when I feel that my entire being and sound had fused together and became one being. Was my emotional reaction to the exhibition reflecting a frightening prospect of transformation from my old self to a not yet known new self? Or was it a feeling of admiration for the bravery of those who took the initiative and are now harvesting the rewards of transformation. It was certainly a state of mind, an elevated spirit that rose high above noise of the world, a moment of bliss. A state of awe is probably the most appropriate term to describe that feeling when time seemed to slow down and knowledge of being ceased and a sense of the unknown prevailed.  

The viewing experience of this exhibition awakened a musical resonance with each image stimulating its neighbour by a sequence of variations like riffs and sequences in jazz improvisations. The musical dimension of this is more visible in the series of paintings titled Threshold. The vertical lines running horizontally echo musical notes. Even though they are not mimetically articulated, they still suggest rhythmic patterns. This series as well as the painting Kalahari calling with which it shares musical association, reflect a perfect marriage of spontaneity and control. The musical analogy goes further in the painting titled Kalahari calling where the vertical rhythms seem to suggest a duet of musical instruments harmoniously paired tonally and acting together to please the ear and pleasing the eye in a to-ing and fro-ing movement. The Threshold series has the same musical underpinning with a much more varied musical composition spread over a few paintings, here each painting seems to be depicting a particular phase in the musical composition with a pregnant silence which acts as a transition to another phase which in turn reflects another view-point and another rhythm with each phase/image retaining its individuality yet harmoniously related to the whole. This is achieved by means of related background colours which anchor the individual phases/image and hold the series together. The colour contrasts create their own rhythms in support of the soloists while the same time providing the underlying pulse.

I know that music is capable of challenging one both intellectually and emotionally with the power to pull one in so many unpredictable directions. At one point one might find oneself toe-tapping and the heart humming gracefully, and then transitions into a deep meditative zone and next find oneself thrown in wonderful turbulence. The best jazz masters take you there.

Jill Trappler is not painting musicians, her paintings echo sounds, her colours reflect moods and tensions, her rhythms recall improvisational jazz masters, like Mankunku, Ngozi, the meditative piano of Abdulla Ibrahim, the soulful tenor of Ben Webster and haunting percussion of Zakir Hussain. “The viewpoint may change, the form may change but if its jazz it has to swing, it has to take you away”, says Art Blakey.  Trappler’s work reflects the adventurism of jazz improvisation, evolving, transforming old to new forms and taking you away to a landscape where you become one with the sounds she is painting.

The on-going global turbulence caused by the covid-19 pandemic and other social ills has created extreme uncertainty, contributing to individual stress and emotional breakdown. Trappler’s images such as Open Sky and Open Shade have a meditative spirit which create an atmosphere for deep thought and reflection. The atmospheric rendering of paint creates a feeling akin to an ethereal filter that seems to conceal a presence that is not yet ready to be revealed or reveal itself. Her images also radiate a sense of tranquillity and peace while simultaneously imbued with internal energy. They seem to have an ability to calm troubled souls and with joyful paintings such as Mid-summer Morning offer an optimistic view of tomorrow.   

“A rain puddle on a littered, cracked and dirty city sidewalk does still reflect the blue sky following a storm, after all ……… If you look for it” (Burwell: 1997:36)

FROM PAINTING TO PAINTING AS SCULPTURE: The Journey of Lilian Thomas Burwell