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Tuesday, June 2, 2015


(“Woman Bathing” - Detail by Marianne Meijer)

Bren Brophy, Independent Arts and Culture Activator of the Executive Committee of the Friends of the Durban Art Gallery, talks about Marianne Meijer’s solo exhibition at Rivertown:

The Durban Art Gallery (DAG) is presenting Rembrandt – A love affair, a solo exhibition of portraits by Durban artist Marianne Meijer. It’s an exhibition of landmarks; the exhibition opened on May 28, Meijer’s 80th birthday.

The exhibition also launches a new Durban Art Gallery exhibition space - the Rivertown Gallery housed in a newly-renovated section of the historic Durban Beer Hall. The Rivertown Gallery initiative is spot on international trend – the activation of semi-industrial urban spaces using arts and culture that bring lifeblood to the cultural heart of the city that contain both heritage collections and contemporary practice. It is fitting then that the DAG has chosen to unveil this ‘renewal space’ with a showing by one of Durban’s most recognised veteran artists. 

Marianne Meijer has for more than three decades been the voice of the local art world in her bi-monthly newspaper commentaries, she’s the lifelong Vice-President of the KwaZulu–Natal Society of Arts and this is her 5th solo exhibition. By reflecting on a new body of work by this experienced artist, the DAG celebrates not only its history and transformation in a new democracy but also its commitment to the future. Heritage is not a static thing. History and the future coexist comfortably in this exhibition which in turn hangs contentedly on the new walls of a historic Durban building.  If you want to know the future, look back.

Art pundits will know that Meijer has always painted faces. What we did not know was her love affair with Rembrandt. Meijer is unapologetically Dutch. She remembers growing up as a young girl under the Nazi boot, she remembers her father’s letter from a concentration camp, she remembers leaving for South Africa, and she remembers the Dutch master Rembrandt.

Meijer’s painting has always been dark. Serious painting is not something that can be learned casually. “The task of the artist is to make the human being uncomfortable.”  - Lucien Freud.

This new body of work is a series that is Meijer’s response to meticulously researched and observed works by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–1669) who embraced realism and innovative technique to become one of the greatest artists of all time.  

Meijer paints faces and figures that are departures from traditional portraiture. Her interest lies in inventing variations and exploring expressive effect rather than mere depictions. Details become blurred through manipulation of the medium often to the point of abstraction. What is captured is the subtlety and enormous range of human emotion that makes each of us unique yet sharing a common humanity. She abandons the realistic image and chooses a new way of ‘seeing’ with the mind’s eye – a process of inward introspection and intuition that give these works their unique power to move and engage the viewer. Rather like Rembrandt's subjects who emerge out of the shadows, bathed brightly in a dramatic and theatrical light.

Meijer’s learning from the knowledge of these masterpieces is an extension of her achievement. “If you wish to study the works of another artist make sure that he or she is competent. Never demean your efforts because you think you are not in a class with Rembrandt.” – Richard Schmid.

A must see exhibition.

Bren Brophy, Independent Arts and Culture Activator, Executive Committee Friends of the Durban Art gallery

Rembrandt – A love affair runs in the Rivertown Gallery until July 5. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday from 08h30 to 16h00. For more information contact Thulani Makhaye on 031 311 2268 or Jenny Stretton on 031 3327 286. Rivertown Gallery is situated at 102 -120 Florence Nzama Road (formerly Prince Alfred).