Everard Read, Cape Town
21.04.2016 – 11.05.2016
Sasha Hartslief’s newest exhibition at the Everard Read Gallery in Cape Town is a beautiful collection of oil on canvas paintings, reminiscent of Impressionist art. The exhibition entitled ‘New Works’ subtly investigates, through technique and talent, the human condition. According to Hartslief, these scenes are the product of ‘disparate ideas, whose common thread is that they all arise from a striking visual moment, which arrests attention and demands to be painted’.This rather intimate collection of work is inspired by the artist’s surroundings, resulting in the visual capturing of her interpretation of the seemingly privileged side of Cape Town suburban life, yet this commentary is layered with romantic and emotive nuance.
Hartslief focusses on portraits, cityscapes and rural scenes in this collection. A clear contemplative mood is identifiable in the use of tonality and light in these paintings. With very little written about the artist and her overall creative process being a subject that is mostly kept in the dark, the audience is in a position to fill in the gaps and identify with the visual technique to create their own background story.
It is clear that in terms of both the subject matter and her technique, Hartslief’s painting is influenced by the Impressionist movement in art that developed in the 1860s in Paris, France. Impressionists aimed to capture the momentary, sensory effect of a scene – the impression objects made on the eye in a fleeting instant. To achieve this effect, many Impressionist artists moved from the studio to the streets and countryside, painting en plein air. The chosen subjects and themes in Hartslief’s exhibition, as well as the effect of the rather rushed brush stroke (with all of the works displayed having been created in 2016) creates movement and sets a mood, qualities reminiscent of these Impressionist artists.
The chosen subjects in her portraits are often viewed from a philosophical, deeply personal perspective, resulting in striking works that are emotionally charged and pensive in mood.. Much like Morisot, the first prominent female Impressionist, Hartslief creates rich compositions that highlighted the internal, highly personal sphere of feminine society through portraits of women within intimate settings. In many of her paintings, as is the case in ‘Blonde Girl’, atmospheric light and tonal modulations inform a surface, highlighting the sensory effect and mood of the scene. The subjects forward gaze communicates with the viewer in a rather personal and engaged manner, highlighting further the emotional aspect of Hartslief’s depiction of the human condition. Her natural positioning, though somewhat reminiscent of a girl posing for a photograph, is also painted in such a way to create realistic movement. In this, Hartslief does not lose touch with her artistic intention of capturing a fleeting moment. One is almost certain that the girl’s next move will be to sweep her hair out of her face, illustrating how the artist masterfully employs movement to communicate Realism, even though the romanticized essence of Impressionism is not lost.
Her artwork entitled ‘City Lights’, (Figure 2) shows another side to her painting, drawing further on movement through the depiction of light. By applying more crude brushstrokes and impressionistic streaks of colour, they evoke the rapid tempo of modern life as a central facet of urban society. She explores the optical effects of light – to convey the passage of time, changes in weather, and other shifts in the atmosphere of her differing canvases. With loosened brushwork and a colder colour palette, Hartslief abandons a traditional linear perspective and avoids the clarity of form that distinguishes the more important elements of a picture from the lesser ones. In this, she accentuates the rushed movement of the city, the lights and subsequent shadows contributing to this effect of movement and masterfully creates a sense of modality in the scene.
This idea of rushed art is not only part of the interpretation of the work, but it is part of Hartslief’s method and style. She is rather rushed in her painting and much like her Impressionist predecessor Claude Monet, she does not wait for paint to dry before applying successive layers. This “wet on wet” technique produces softer edges and blurred boundaries, as seen in ‘City Lights’, that merely suggests a three-dimensional plane, rather than a more realistic depiction. Interestingly enough, the entire Read Gallery subsequently smelled like paint during her exhibition, with some of her paintings still not entirely dry. Though possibly off-putting to some members of the audience, it does create a rather authentic sensory experience when viewing the artworks and attests to the rather unique artistic process of Hartslief.
As a modern South African Painter, Hartslief intertwines 19th century Impressionist styles with depictions of a ‘Modern Society’ in this exhibition. Through technique and the insight she exhibits with regards to the subjects she paints, Hartslief manages to encapsulate mood and tonality in a personal manner, by engaging with and capturing moments that are sure to be influenced by the passing of time and the change of light and atmosphere that follows. The result: beautiful images, many filled with emotion and movement that draws the viewer in by capturing a reflection of humanity.