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