Monday, September 6, 2010

Siopis at Brodie Stevenson

I heard a lot about Penny Siopis’s new show before I saw it. That’s always a good sign. Of course, most people who spoke about it described it in vague terms, as if it was an experience that couldn’t be articulated. My interest was piqued. I missed the opening night but apparently it was jam-packed  - “everyone was there” someone quipped. And by “everyone” they meant everyone in the Joburg art scene. As Michael Smith observed in his latest editorial  for Artthrob, Siopis is not only perceived as one of the country’s major painters – I think artist is more appropriate given that she uses different mediums – but was an influential figure in the Joburg art scene. So naturally she drew crowds of admirers. However, as with anyone with a formidable reputation she does also have her detractors; particularly among the young male artist contingent who recoil from her pink canvases as if they are the embodiment of angry feminist retorts. Some of the works that she produced recently, which oozed pink and red paint, did appear like bloody open wounds and probably weren’t for the squeamish. However, her work has undergone some dramatic shifts. I recently got to view Scene: Finale (ca, 1980s), which is part of a collection of art from JAG on display at Villa Arcadia.  I hadn't seen this painting before and though I am not sure it is the best from her era of 'history' painting it was interesting to observe this artwork weeks after viewing Furies at Brodie Stevenson. The female subject might still be at the centre of her work but her aesthetic has shifted dramatically since the eighties. Few artists have been able to reinvent their aesthetic  - one always senses that they are defined by it.

Furies, presents quite a different brand of work, albeit that the tones still evoke wounded, beaten flesh.  Whatever you may feel about Siopis’ art these new paintings are demanding.  The surface details draw you in first; sometimes the object of your gaze is a slightly raised transparent form treated to delicate smears of colour. In other works you are confronted, even assaulted, with a barrage of colour that explodes onto the canvas.