WHATIFTHEWORLD, Cape Town
Pierre Fouché has an affinity for Zen Buddhist-like paradoxes. Movement through quietude. Contentment through self-denial. Relief through fear. The thesis of his show, ‘Vreesaanjaende Verligting’ (Fear-Inducing Relief), is an attempt to achieve verligting. Relief has many meanings in English; in can refer to a moulding, carving, or stamping technique in which the design stands out from the surface. It can be used to describe sexual climax and reprieve. Afrikaans adds to this list the meaning ‘enlightenment’; a life-enhancing expansion of consciousness.
The springboard for this exhibition, Onskeibare Bemindes (Inseparable Lovers), is a study of a piece of 18th century binche-style bobbin lace showing decorative foliate flourishes. By beginning with two bluish tones and weaving them into one towards the bottom of the piece, and by improvising in the passages between the conventionalized figurative motifs, Fouché begins to deviate from the traditional constraints of lace-making. This devotional artefact is carefully lifted from the annals of history and given a contemporary rebirth among other objects for which the medium, lace-making, is literally the message. Here, the supremacy of art over craft is systematically undermined.
The extemporaneous areas of Onskeibare Bemindes, reminded Fouché of brushstrokes, and he began to produce abstract painting in the encaustic medium that referenced the Action Paintings of the 1950s. These are made using an amalgamation of beeswax, pigment and damar varnish on wood. Romano-Egyptian Fayum mummy portraits in encaustic painting survive from as early as the 1st Century BC and as such, this is another of Fouché’s media with a lengthy historical train.
A documentary on the work of Robert Rauschenberg first drew his attention to encaustic, and Rauschenberg’s statement that his lover, Jasper John’s, entire studio was permeated with the succulent odours of beeswax proved an added enticement for Fouché to investigate the medium. Fouché mentioned in an interview that the fragrant process lured bees into his studio.
Encaustic can be smoothed down to attain a nacreous glitter and sheen like lacquer, nail polish or a ceramic glaze, or manipulated to produce velvety matte surfaces. His works attest to the unctuous pliancy of the medium. The molten pigment courses in wayward rivulets across the surface containing gestural information about the movements that arranged them, specifically actions that mimic the repetitive gyroscopic movements of stitches. The sinuous rhythmic curlicue and arabesques that form the compositional staples of every work on this exhibition are formed by wrists that remember their training. Pierre hasn’t managed to tear himself away from the lacemakers’ rubric – he has reinterpreted it in another medium.
‘Vreesaanjaende Verligting’ appears wild, loose and free with its brisk calligraphic parabolas that look like shoals of eels. It is as if this great discharge had rid the artist of his submission to the rigid rules and unbending regulations that formerly governed his practice. Despite the appearance of a flurry of improvisatory spontaneous gestures, the painting resolves itself into a perfectly cohesive composition of the all-over Abstract Expressionist type without a centre or climax. Each curve is balanced by a counter-curve. The splatter and drip here mirrors the splatter and drip there, and despite the Catherine-wheel like spin of fierce conflicting energies, harmony and equilibrium prevail.
Although there is a debt to Pollock, de Kooning and Motherwell, Pierre side-steps their unbridled displays of steroid jock power and force, and curbs the machismo of the genre. The palette too contains something distinctly his own, a kind of sensitive South African nostalgia. The combinations of colour remind one of 80’s Afrikanerdom. Homes decorated using dyed potpourri and heavy upholstery – with doilies, 1950’s fittings and geometric modern art. The burgundies, mustards and viridans of these paintings are artefacts of Fouché’s personal history. Perhaps as the romance of the memory turns, as in Die Buddhaveld, these palettes curdle into nauseating hues with frightful beetroots, snot greens, and scabby reds.
In contrast to earlier work, only one work in Vreesaanjaende Verligting is figurative and as such, Fouché’s work feels more preoccupied with his personal struggle against constriction than anything erotic. Absent is the heady repression of desire – in which the object of his lust is the ever-unachievable and painstakingly portrayed subject matter. Aside from the ejaculatory spatter of paint, objects that might have been sexually charged are inert. The beeswax smell is undetectable, the wax is hardened and the silken ropes are employed to describe abstractions of amoebas and protozoa rather than to string up a pliable partner. This is about as erotic as a visit to the Rupert Museum.
Yet it is by no means unemotional. The exhilarating freedom of his paintings and the serenity of a series of accompanying monotypes represent the psychological spectrum of his journey. Fouché’s awe of nature is evident in the monotypes that observe the heave and swell of the tides, breaking waves, scudding clouds, and breezes rippling over the ocean. They are abstract variations on Chinese scroll-paintings, inspired by nature, though far from descriptive of it. Painterly meditations that evoke the psychic vibrations of seascape, landscape and cloudscape. In Boekrol Een Fouché’s deployment of watery greens, glaucous blues and faded greys create a blithe lyrical effect and achieve an airiness and ethereality.
The paintings and prints, which are Fouché’s departures from lacemaking, are brought full circle in the works Temas ev Variasies, Iemand Anders II, Iemand Anders III and most prominently in Heelal, Kwashaal. In the latter, exuberant brush strokes are fed back into the format of the traditional binche method where they are static, once again trapped like insects in webs of silken thread. But this time it is without the repressive tightness of Onskeibare Bemindes. Titles such as Iemand Anders (Someone Else) are celebratory commemorations of the growth, development and self-renewal the artist achieved over the three year trajectory of the exhibition.
‘Vreesaanjaende Verligting’ witnesses a process of moving away from the restrictions of lace and figurative artwork. The word lace is from the Latin laqueus, meaning noose (akin to lacere, to entice or ensnare). Fouché may have achieved some degree of verligting but he remains beautifully ensnared in the medium for which he is renown.