Grace Kotze at Gordart Gallery
by Tracey-Louise Edwards
The Romantics used their skyscapes to create a metaphysical essence in their work quite apart from the pleasure we experience when viewing the form and the aesthetic. Grace Kotze's paintings, entitled 'A Sense of...' resonate with a similar essence. The Durban based artist's latest solo contribution of textural colour planes and intimate figures consciously employs the more traditional techniques of image, colour, composition and mark to evoke an emotional response in the viewer; and although we respond, the viewer can't help feeling left wanting more.
In her exhibition statement, Kotze writes that for this exhibition she sought to produce works dealing with 'the power of an emotion remembered' by 'manipulat[ing]... specific emotional keys'. It is her palette and use of abstraction that facilitate this. In images such as Pliable and M13, somber sepias and browns mingle in what could be landscapes, figurative images or textural abstractions. In smaller works even her use of brighter colours, like the greens and reds of 1976, is muted with darker shades. Kotze produces surface planes of colour that seem to span infinity yet remain relatively flat. In contrast, the depth of the canvasses in her smaller works is very evident to produce ambiguous and interesting visual planes. A standout feature of the exhibition is, undoubtedly, the technical finesse with which Kotze handles paint and figures.
Her use of paint, although employed to vastly different ends, calls to my mind the mesmerising colour fields of Rothko's later work. The triptych Eclipse, Conceal, and Veil, as well as two of her larger pieces Precipitate and Indigo, recall Turner's work with their evocation of the underlying power of nature and the search for God in his vast, cloudy voids of nothingness. Yet, while we may notice similarities between her work and that of the Romantics, Kotze, according to her statement, wants our attention to focus primarily on the quality the paint holds. She argues that detailed images can detract from the essence of a work, yet it is her detailed images like her landscapes that, to me, hold most emotional poignancy.
This 'detracting detail' is ironically reiterated in her smaller pieces. In the series titled Tribute to CM Cameron, minute photographic images are painstakingly reproduced only to be partially eclipsed by the paint. Through this Kotze states that she is attempting to explore the dominance of paint through the breakdown in legibility of her images. Unfortunately the power of the brain's desire to interpret and categorize, as well as our inherent search for the familiar, terminates this 'experiment' by placing the visual power of the figurative above that of the abstract painterly effects.
On the whole Kotze's work is both beautiful and stimulating although the juxtaposition of her smaller intimate figures with the larger landscapes seems somewhat incongruous. In a few of her works, such as the invitation image, Caryn, and the title piece A Sense of..., I was jarred from my sublime reverie by gaudy colours. Perhaps it is the exploratory nature of her work, or the artist's statement that the exhibition 'does not profess... any grand political or social comment', that leave me feeling the work needs more. Right now it seems to occupy a midground. However, in an era where the conceptual enjoys most popularity, a hearkening back to more traditional visual pleasure seems almost adulterous.
Tracey-Louise Edwards is a recent Honours graduate from Rhodes University, and is currently Gallery Manager at the Thompson Gallery in Melville, Johannesburg
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