09.09.17 – 07.10.17
SMAC Gallery is pleased to present On Repeat, a solo show of new paintings by Georgina Gratrix. This exhibition will be her third solo with the gallery and her first in Johannesburg.
To play a song on repeat is to play it over and over again, to wear out the needle on the record, to wear the song thin. In Gratrix’s practice and, in particular, her pattern-like canvases, the opposite is true – the more she repeats gestures and symbols, the thicker they become. With each repeat application of her brush to the canvas, the surface blooms with luscious daubs of oil paint, resulting in the proliferation of colour, form, shape and texture.
Canine companionship, memories of her upbringing in Durban on the sub-tropical east coast of South Africa, these are some of the numerous things that present themselves as characters at the forefront of Gratrix’s uncanny imagination. Throughout each painting – a monomania of dripping, viscous colour – these various personal effigies reoccur. Fonz and Frank (Gratrix’s faithful, furry studio assistants) feature throughout, making their encore in the artist’s thematic discourse. Other popular, repeat offenders are lampooned pineapples, anthropomorphised tropical birds, vivid flowers and blinging items of jewellery. This lexicon of symbols that infinitely echo in the artist’s paintings become near idols; rivaling many an #instafamous pet.
Gratrix’s “gushy pop songs” – as she refers to her still life paintings – resonate with the same kind of repetition as the pop music we play on repeat. It only takes a few minutes of a Top 40 radio hit to realise you’re hearing the same lyrics over and over again.
As Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis’s work has revealed in On Repeat: How Music Plays the Mind, her book on the phenomenon of repetition in music, it’s not just the songs we love that are so often built on patterns that repeat – drumbeats, rhythms, lyrics – it’s also that we love to listen to the same music, the same recording, again and again. Far from diluting our pleasure, reliving them only seems to reinforce our connection to these musical experiences.
It’s certainly not the same with words outside of saccharine song lyrics. If you utter a single word over and over again, it starts to become simply a collection of sounds, rather than having any kind of ‘meaning’. A Lover’s Discourse (after Roland Barthe’s seminal text on the semiotics of desire) features snippets of the mundane and sometimes monotonous text message-based conversation between Gratrix and her boyfriend, who remained in Cape Town while she completed her work in Johannesburg in the lead-up to her show. A plethora of brightly-feathered avian characters, with their trademark plastic googly eyes, squawk in monosyllables – “Ha Ha Ha Ha”, “Maybe”, “OK” and “Fine”. These snippets of conversation become like text-message-speak Morse code, tapped out into the ether without a particular objective in mind or any intent to achieve closure.
In the multitudes of words, birds, flowers, faces, Gratrix’s work becomes almost hypnotic in its repetition. On Repeat presents an innate rhythm in the production of each of Gratrix’s paintings – her brush returning again and again to the canvas, re-working it, whipping each smear of paint into soft peaks; regularly using the mouth of the paint-tube as an applicator, squeezing the rich, oiled pigment directly onto the painted surface; pressing tiny dice and cosmetic jewellery and other shiny trinkets into the supple folds of paint.
Actively defying the practice of traditional oil-painting, Gratrix introduces something sensitive, something intimate to the age-old medium. This personal, tactile relationship with her work, produced in her sun-dappled studio with Fonz and Frank at her feet, is simultaneously relatable and opulently exotic.