Johann Louw

Et in Arcadia Ego

07.08.13 – 28.08.13

UJ Art Gallery, Johannesburg

UJ Arts and Culture in collaboration with SMAC Art Gallery presents an exhibition by Johann Louw entitled Et in Arcadia Ego at the UJ Art Gallery. Et in Arcadia Ego is a continuation or follow-on from the critically successful, Terugkoms van Cythera, presented in Cape Town at the beginning of 2013. These exhibitions were conceived collectively and represent a departure for the artist, who delves further into the realm of the subconscious and the psyche.

The titles to the exhibitions are employed as ironic devices, providing indirect thematic hints as to the subjects of the new paintings. Both the classical artworks referred to; The Return from Cythera by Watteau and Et in Arcadia Ego by Poussin, indicate the existence of utopia or a mythical land of perfection and harmony. However, both works and particularly the painting by Poussin, suggest that there is trouble (death) in paradise. The Latin term which was used to inscribe tombs (‘the person in this tomb has enjoyed the pleasures of life’) has various translations, the most common being; ‘I (death) exist in Arcadia (utopia/heaven).’

Louw often depicts his subjects in a transitory, contemplative state, suspended in space and time. The subtle, yet powerful captive moment can be construed as a memento morior a moment where the inevitability of death reveals itself. Stylistically, Louw is considered an Expressionist painter who imbues psychological angst and tension into his work through potent gestural brushwork. Whilst remaining equally forceful, Louw’s new paintings have evolved thematically and become more cryptic and complex. Contemporary Surrealist undertones infiltrate the compositions, creating dramatic cinematic effects, recalling Alejandro Jodorowski and David Lynch. Porcelain dolls, skeletons, rubber masks, malnourished hounds, squids and hospital beds form part of Louw’s new lexicon and inhabit an illusory world located somewhere between the subliminal mind and reality. Beyond these devices and potential readings, the new paintings stand alone as powerful and unpretentious expressions of a universal and timeless dilemma, as relevant and unresolved as in 1638 when Poussin completed his masterpiece.