PAINT I:
Contemporary South African Painting
2002 – 2012

SMAC Cape Town
27 Nov 2012 – 26 Jan 2013

SMAC Art Gallery proudly presents Paint I, the first in a series of exhibitions looking at contemporary South African painting. Covering the period between 2002 – 2012, the exhibition  includes the following artists:  Johannes Phokela, Lisa Brice, Pat Mautloa, Sanell Aggenbach, Anton Karstel, Johann Louw, Sam Nhlengethwa, Jake Aikman, Georgina Gratrix, Rebecca Haysom, Colbert Mashile, Kate Gottgens, Luiza Cachalia, Michael Taylor, Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, Peter Eastman, Asha Zero, Karl Gietl, Wayne Barker, Samson Mnisi, Barend de Wet, Jan-Henri Booyens, Karin Preller, Amos Letsoalo, Mary Wafer, Themba Shibase, Clare Menck, Walter Meyer, Helmut Starke, Trevor Makhoba, Simon Stone, Norman Catherine and Robert Hodgins.

The initial curatorial concept of the exhibition was to present a showcasing of brand new South African painting – a snapshot of today. The gallery decided to extend the period in order to widen the scope of potential works and to include artists such as the recently deceased Robert Hodgins and Trevor Makhoba.

The term Contemporary, and what constitutes ‘contemporary painting’, are important aspects that underpin the exhibition.  Many definitions link contemporary art to a time period (usually from the 1970s onwards), but here it is interpreted as a concept, an aesthetic and an approach in order to distinguish ‘contemporary painting’ from ‘traditional painting’.

Furthermore, the exhibition aims to dispel traditionalist attitudes often prevalent in South Africa towards painting. We have seen many shifts in the interpretation and critical reading of painting over the past few decades, recognising the conceptual elements inherent to new painting. New criteria does not exclude older and mid-career artists, on the contrary it re-introduces and re-contextualises these painters to what is becoming an increasingly receptive and younger audience.

There have been numerous painting revivals in recent times: The Triumph of Painting at the Saatchi Gallery in 2004 (Marlene Dumas, Peter Doig and others),  New German painting from Leipzig and Dresden (Neo Rauch and Eberhard Havekost), new Chinese painting (Zhang Xiaogang, Fang Lijun,  Zeng Fanzhi), Japanese painting inspired by Japanimation/Manga and computer games (Takashi Marukami, Yoshitomo Nara), Neo-Pop or the continuation of Pop (Richard Phillips, Rob Pruitt), new Painting from previous Soviet-Block countries (Adrian Ghenie, Willhelm Sasnal), new painters from Brazil and Latin America (Beatriz Milhazes), new Abstract painting (Mark Grotjahn, Amy Sillman), new naive painting or Artificial Realism (George Condo, Dana Schutz, Lisa Yuskavage), ironic postmodern painting (John Currin, Glenn Brown) and celebrity-culture paintings (Chantal Joffe, Elizabeth Peyton).  Without attaching any specific significance to the individual new moments in painting, it is undeniable that in the 21st century has witnessed painting’s repeated return under various guises.

The most significant development contributing to a new critical appreciation of painting is the relatively recent rise to prominence of older ‘conceptual’ painters such as Luc Tuymans and especially Gerard Richter.  Over sustained careers, these two artists have grappled with the idea of the image – its concept, interpretation, translation, representation and meaning – in what has been described as ‘the age of the image’. An interesting observation – where previously the limitations inherent to painting moved artists to other art forms, today, the limitations inherent to new media and photography make the tactile and participatory creative process of painting suited to translating and interpreting the abundance of imagery confronting a visual generation.  Painting seems to have been re-invigorated by the digital age. New technology and cultural phenomena are contributing to innovations in painting.

There are similarities between South Africa and previously isolated countries from behind the erstwhile iron curtain, where despite repressive political regimes, a high level of traditional, skill-based art training universities was maintained. There are also similarities with countries like Brazil who share a semi-westernised modernist painting history coupled with an indigenous local art tradition.  The coexistence and influence of these two traditions have resulted in artists producing unique, fresh imagery and content. The added complexity of South Africa’s political and cultural history has reinforced the work of certain artists, while many have ignored this context and preferred the universality and freedom offered in a new post-political and global era.

The exhibition is part of a series and therefore should not be seen as an extensive review but rather an objective presentation of painters who have received some form of critical support over the past decade and who, within the relatively broad curatorial framework, deserve to be heard in this conversation. SMAC Art Gallery would like to thank:  Johans Borman Fine Art, Brundyn & Gonsalves, Erdmann Contemporary, Blank Projects, 34 Fine Art and WHATIFTHEWORLD / GALLERY for their support , as well as private collectors who have made their work available for this exhibition.