Stevenson, Cape Town
23.07.2015 – 29.08.2015
Portia Zvavahera’s ‘I Can Feel It In My Eyes’ has an idyllic and naive quality. Her third solo exhibition with Stevenson Gallery is made up of a collection of large canvasses that throb with heat and sensuality. On their bulk one can make out printed fabric, foliage, petals and interlaced bodies. Each of the fifteen paintings, made using oil based printing ink and oil bar, depicts a care-free couple caressing in the lush Harare Botanical garden.
The floral setting is a cipher of plenty. Waxy fronds cushion and veil the gargantuan lovers as they rest and embrace. Bold colours communicate the warmth and brightness of the summer (visiting the gallery during an icy Cape Town downpour was a welcome reminder of summer’s immanent saturation). The combination of sensational reds, plummy purples and kelp greens make the exhibition a scribbled reminder of paradise – and it is somewhat scribbled. The artist and her subjects are co-conspirators in lazy repose.The line work is gestural, sometimes even brash or unresolved. Zvavahera’s art-brut-esque approximations of form are there to suggest and to capture a sensation. Ashraf Jamal likens her style to that of Jean-Michel Basquiat while I tend to see more of Matisse’s dancing cut-outs in the caressing figures. Their execution has an element of outsider art with the indulgent patterning of the contemporary Australian Aboriginal art movement in I Can Feel It In My Eyes (2).
Faces, which in some works are little more than raw outlines, possess expressions only decipherable to their romantic partner, while both remain oblivious to the wintry voyeurs that trawl the gallery space.
These otherworldly lovers seated at the centre of scalloped petals are relics of Zvavahera’s experiences and dreams. In an interview with Between 10 & 5, Portia explains, “I sleep with my sketchbook under my pillow so that whenever I have a dream I can sketch it down in the book, and then later on I will try to develop it.” She is clearly trying to capture that beautiful dream-like state of love. This is art that seeks to preserve a luxuriant afternoon like a tropical insect trapped in amber.
It bears mentioning that in order to reach Zvavahera’s two room exhibition one has to navigate Penny Siopis’s ‘Still and Moving.’ A show in which tiny, grieving waifs linger at the edge of pools, waft in and out of blistering-Alcolin mists and feature in other surreal and heart-rending dioramas. The palette could have been adopted from the gummy remains of a child’s birthday party. It is a show where a kind of wretchedly pretty unhappiness permeates like a cloud of sour perfume.
Despite their radically different messages ‘I Can Feel It In My Eyes’ and ‘Still and Moving’ are complementary viewing. Siopis’s anxiety-riddled dystopia and Zvavahera’s luxuriant Eden are halves of the same whole, each with a message that solidifies the other and that in conjunction speaks more holistically to the human condition.