13.02.16 – 02.04.16
‘Puppy Love’ is considered a temporary infatuation between adolescents – something that will not last into maturity. As the exhibition title suggests, Georgina Gratrix positions her work at the interplay of the serious and the trivial. Evidenced in her references that range, bewilderingly, from the high art to the popular and kitsch, Gratrix is an artist who tirelessly wrestles with paint – its material qualities as well as the art historical complexities that are weighted with stodgy, stoic canvases of the male-dominated Western canon. Puppy Love identifies Gratrix’s practice as a place of confronting the assumptions of the oil paint medium as deadly serious art.
Gratrix prefers to tackle the adversities of familiar painting genres, such as portraiture and still life, with her uncanny brand of domestic satire. Her investigation of these genres has seen her destroying the canvas’s edge in works made circular, or with protrusions beyond the frame. In 2015, she began cutting up old paintings, in order to reconstitute the parts into new works, and started including plastic-eyes and jewels into the painted surface, a process she describes as “obsessive bedazzling”.
In Puppy Love, Gratrix extends this enjoyment of working with “things that exist” into a new series of paint-sculptures that sees her characteristically pithy use of paint extended to found porcelain bric-a-brac and second-hand ceramics in a syrupy, sardonic inversion of their original functions. Fashioned with glitter, costume-crystals and goofy smiles, curious pieces such as Cheryl (2015) or Chiquita (2015) stage a new extension of her discoveries, on two-dimensional surfaces, toward the realm of installation. In the sculptural-cake works like Cake with Strawberry Icing (2016) or Strawberry Pie (2016), Gratrix flaunts her undeniable skill at manipulating paint into a sugary, icing-like surface that, while veritably enticing, would be fatal to consume. Reframed within the gallery space, these sculptural works draw attention to the seemingly innocuous arena of interior decorating and confectionary, generally considered genres of a commercial nature. Here, again, Gratrix’s interest in reworking the familiar is foregrounded. Her critical eye scopes these spaces of consumer industry, into which historical fine art paintings have devolved into cushion covers and fabric prints.
The squelching, dripping-thickness of Gratrix’s painted surfaces consistently brings attention to the corporeal body of the paint itself, exposing the playful tension the artist has with the tradition of using paint to create seductive, illusionistic surfaces in the face of the reality of its sticky, messy nature. Gratrix applies her paint liberally, in a decanting manner, with a palette knife or brush and works uncompromisingly in layering the paint as a work develops, in an intuitive flow from thought to paint. This is seen particularly in her ambitiously scaled All the Birthdays Bouquet (2016). The sheer size of this frivolous subject commands an engagement with the painting’s dazzlingly thick swirls of colour and curiously hidden totems representing a subtropical childhood memory of Durban’s parrots and orange hibiscus’.
This mode of production is also established in her new collage works that see a continuation of layering painted-objects, now cut out of individual pieces of paper. Cigarettes placed among the gold chain-links, bananas and sad-faced flowers – Gratrix’s sense of the ridiculous nature of excess is expressed in these collages through a surprisingly light touch of watery acrylic-paint on paper. Holy Crap (2016), for example, demonstrates her pervading comedic-grotesque as a literal paper pile of fruit, flowers and cigarettes, fashioned into a still life, confronts a popular culture sense of home décor and ‘pretty things’.
Gratrix describes her still lives as “gushy pop-songs”. In them, she melds the tumbler-aesthetic of the digital age with references to Modernist South African painters; Maggie Laubser (b.1886-1973) and Irma Stern (b.1894-1966) who have both scored record sales on auction locally and abroad. Behind the wry-smile of her paintings, Gratrix subtly includes her own nature as a female South African painter. Works like; All I See is Dollar Signs (2016) and Irma’s Muses (2016), while seemingly playful and slap-dash, hint at a worrying trend in both Modernist painting and contemporary-tourism to exoticize and temper for the consumer market.
It is in the ‘uglier’ representation of conventionally pretty things that one finds the foundation of Gratrix’s painting – a poignant remark to a devolving hierarchy of canonical art. Her continuous painting, Christmas Tree, which she started in 2015, is testament to this. Every year this painting will receive a fresh coat of paint to spruce it up for the forthcoming festive season so that, in a process of consistent bedazzling, its sparkle will slowly become a little bit more grotesque.
Puppy Love is Gratrix’s second solo exhibition with the SMAC gallery and coincides with the launch of a new publication: GEORGINA GRATRIX with text by Emily Friedman.
Georgina Gratrix was born in Mexico City in 1982 and grew up in Durban, South Africa. She studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art, University of Cape Town and graduated in 2005, specialising in painting. In 2008, Gratrix presented her debut solo exhibition, Master Copy, in Cape Town. Other solo exhibitions include; The Berlin Paintings, presented at Die Tankstelle in association with Nolan Judin Gallery in Berlin, Germany in 2013 and My Show at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch in 2012. Group exhibitions include; Thinking, Feeling, Head, Heart at the New Church Museum in Cape Town, South Africa in 2015; PAPERWORK: An Exhibition of Contemporary South African Works on Paper at SMAC Gallery in Stellenbosch in 2014; The Beautyful Ones at Nolan Judin Gallery in Berlin, Germany in 2013 and Dialogues with Masters: Visual Perspectives on Two Decades of Democracy, a curated exhibition for the 2013 FNB Joburg Art Fair. In 2012, she exhibited in Subject as Matter at the New Church Museum in Cape Town and PAINT 1: Contemporary South African Painting at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town. Gratrix’s work was also included in 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective at the IZIKO South African National Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa in 2010 and Fresh Fruits at Ten Haaf Projects in Amsterdam, Holland in 2009. Georgina Gratrix currently lives and works in Cape Town.