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Thursday, April 19, 2018


(“Woman in Grasslands” by Heather Gourlay-Conyngham)

Five treatments are very different, ranging from the almost photographic in terms of realism to the almost abstract. (Review by Margaret von Klemperer)

The exhibition Five Degrees of Separation running in the Schreiner Gallery at the Tatham Art Gallery in Pietermaritzburg showcases the work of five artists – Terri Broll, Ian Calder, Heather Gourlay-Conyngham, Louise Hall and Terence King. All have either studied or taught at the Centre for Visual Art on the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Their other connection is that, while all were living in the Pietermaritzburg area, they met every six weeks or so on an informal basis to share ideas and discuss their work. It is their second exhibition as a group, having shown work in 2017 at the KZNSA Gallery in Durban.

The idea of degrees of separation of course implies connection, but the way in which the work has been hung, grouped by individual artists, emphasises their separateness rather than their connectedness. All five are here working in two-dimensional art, and all are showing figures, objects and landscapes in various combinations, but the five treatments are very different, ranging from the almost photographic in terms of realism to the almost abstract. It makes for a thought-provoking experience to walk round the gallery and observe how the artists have tackled their subjects and to look for the similarities as well as the differences.

To consider them in the order in which I walked round the gallery: first is Gourlay-Conyngham. Her work shows a stark realism, but within that there are mysteries. Who is the woman in Woman in Grasslands and why does she look fearfully over her shoulder into the landscape? Why in Two Men is one figure clothed and the other nude? The most “realistic” of her works is the disturbing painting of two albino children, Nicole and Karyn, which highlights the role society has imposed on those with albinism, seeing them as outsiders, posed against a blank background.

Calder is perhaps best known locally as a ceramic artist, and here he seems to be deconstructing his three dimensional work in two dimensions, showing shards and broken pieces. In Mount Gilboa: Stoneware, he shows a complete pot, surrounded by fragments, offering a sense of impermanence, while in the two Codices, he shows only fragments, both the raw materials from which art can be made, and the results of its destruction.

Impermanence is also a feature of King’s work. His three paintings, Litoral III; Disintegrating Markers VII and Workspace VI all give a sense of the mutability of both man-made objects and landscapes, whether the damaged boat and pier of Litoral III or the broken combs of Workspace.

With Broll’s two works, Speaking to You and Dance Card, there is a return to the human figure, but in a very different manner to Gourlay-Conyngham’s realism. Her figures are also disturbing, but in this case because of their distortions, making them curiously inhuman. In Speaking to You, there is an enormous disconnect between the two figures, which mocks the title the artist has given the work.

Hall, whose work is the least representational of the pieces on the exhibition, however shows meticulous detail in the bundles of imphepho that are almost tactile in their realism in Metaphysics: Bundles of Imphepho and Water Spirit. That work, as well as Anubis in Hallowed Ground and Water Spirit see the artist exploring the area of the sacred – gods, spirits and objects used in worship.

The exhibition Five Degrees of Separation runs in the Schreiner Gallery at the Tatham Art Gallery until 17h00 on May 20, 2018. - Margaret von Klemperer

The Tatham Art Gallery is situated opposite the Town Hall in Chief Albert Luthuli Street, Pietermaritzburg. It is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 10h00 to 17h00. Café Tatham is open on Saturdays. Safe parking with a car guard available. More information on 033 392 2801 or visit