HELEN A PRITCHARD
Between Object and Place

SMAC Cape Town
01 August – 05 September 2013

SMAC Art Gallery proudly presents Between Object and Place, a solo exhibition by London-based South African artist Helen A Pritchard.

Except for a single work, a hand-moulded bronze relief of the word ‘breeze’ – a reference to the popular South African soap brand from the eighties, the exhibition is comprised of objects, paintings and sculptures with a decided geometric abstract twist. Upon initial reflection, this new body of work touches on numerous art-historical incarnations of geometric abstraction such as the work of British painter Robyn Denny and the London Situation group, Arte Madi and early Concrete artists from Latin America, Brazilian Neo-Concrete art as well as South African modernist abstraction from the sixties. Stylistic similarities aside, Pritchard’s approach is original and contemporary.

In the Neo-Concrete tradition of Hélio Oiticica, Pritchard believes in the spirit of invention within her own practice and has moved gradually to free and playful creations, where a gestural hand and physical presence is consistently essential. Describing her paintings as “oil on canvas reliefs” or “sculptural objects,” the exhibition also features; oil paintings on various surfaces, steel sculptures based on consumer materials, minimalist bronze casts of throw-away, take-away containers and wall-mounted plastic shopping bags with hand-painted geometric designs. According to the artist, “the polythene bags become vessels of communication and experience…they have been reduced to a simple abstract symbol and carry themselves into a transformative state of Art. Bronze monumentalises the discarded product packages, thus questioning its notions of value and inquiring into social commentary and the implied systems we live through.

Commercial packaging and consumerism informs the conceptual and formal basis for the exhibition. Spectator-awareness is another important aspect as Pritchard purposefully ‘packages’ the work to encourage participation and to entice a dialogue with the viewer.

In Between Object and Place, Pritchard eagerly explores numerous dualisms: the difference between High and Low culture, hand-made and manufactured, figurative and abstract, intuitive and considered, structured and free-formed. The artist describes her inspiration for this body of work as the “languages of graphics in advertising, design and gestalt, form and balance of the everyday” that she encountered growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in South Africa. Pritchard has taken inspiration from these visual languages and focused on “the decisions one has to consider within the formal constraints of paintings and its traditions.” By using everyday packaging as her point of departure, Pritchard’s aim is to bring advertising back into the context of the gallery. “This constant play between High and Low culture finds us with an overall sublime experience of Minimalism, Modernism, Pop, postmodern appropriation and fetish.”

An intuitive selection process and experimentation is a critically intrinsic part of Pritchard’s art-making. The geometric layering of pigments onto a canvas provides depth. As the artist makes clear, “the work becomes itself, an object which claims an aura via its layered histories.” There is an ambience of colours, which create “spatial value, perspective and depth through this immersive build up.” Through this process, abstracted new objects materialize. Pritchard allows a freedom of interpretation of what is represented on the surface, often alluding to the figurative as well. For Pritchard, the history of layering the materials can be physically seen in the construction and deconstruction of the work, as she describes; “the editing process creates fragments of images and responds to memory of object and place.

Born in 1975 in Durban, South Africa, Helen A Pritchard completed her Masters Degree in Painting at the Royal College of Art in London in 2011. Recent exhibitions include her 2013 solo show Moths, Drones & Drainpipes presented at Rove Projects in London. Group exhibitions include At the End of the Line at Waterside Contemporary, London,Object Not Found at P.O.S.T Gallery, London, and the MA Graduate Show, Royal College of Art, London in 2011.