David Krut Projects, Johannesburg
22.02 – 29.03.2018
At 5.29am on 16 July 1945 in a New Mexico desert called Jornada del Muerto (translated as “the working day of the dead) the first nuclear bomb was successfully detonated during the Trinity test. As the Manhattan project leader Robert J. Oppenheimer would later recall, in what has come to be the accepted legend of 20th century history:
“We knew the world would not be the same; a few people laughed; a few people cried; most people were silent. I remembered the words from the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita: Vishnu is trying to persuade the prince that he should do his duty and to impress him and takes on his multi-armed form and says, “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” I suppose we all thought that some way or another.”
Death and destruction haunt the legend of the nuclear bomb and its invention and for obvious reason. But Vishnu and his multi-armed form Shiva hint at another pre-nuclear, centuries old recognition of the duality of preservation and creation, which Oppenheimer may have retrospectively chosen to ignore because of his guilt at his role in creating the most deadly weapon known to man and it’s attendant mushroom cloud – a symbol both psychologically terrifying and aesthetically possessing a fascinatingly exquisite beauty. The “bushveld television” of the campsite blown up to Imax screen levels, creating gut-wrenching uncertainty and awe-inspiring realisation of our significance in the greater scheme of things.
All of which brings us in a roundabout way to ‘Survey of Risk’, Matthew Hindley’s exhibition of prints and paintings at David Krut in Johannesburg. In their evocation of the terrifying beauty of fire and brimstone Hindley’s series of Ruin Lust prints evoke that duality of realisation of a destructive force whilst simultaneously highlighting that force’s beauty.
The prints, mostly produced by Hindley during his participation in a Krut printmaking workshop in 2016 are marked by their fascination with flame, fireballs and thick plumes of smoke as objects in their own right (the images are not concerned with the cause of these explosions so much as their effect). The violence of their cause is implied but it is as lively, writhing masses of hypnotic, colourful and kinetic energy made up of the intricately applied marks of the drypoint that Hindley concentrates his, and our, attention. War, looting, bombing, drones, – they are all here but they lie somewhere beyond the frame. In the watercolour monotype The Glowing Building with its palette of reds and yellow you’re not so much focussed on what might happen to the building in the foreground as transfixed by the flames engulfing it. It’s hard to hear Oppenheimer quoting from Hindu scripture when your eyes are so enraptured by the magnificence of the mushroom cloud.
Hindley has spoken of how his experience working on the explosion imagery using drypoint etching lead into his further experiments with the same imagery in the paintings shown at his ‘Ruin Lust’ exhibition at Everard Read, which expanded the size and colour palettes of many of the images shown here. In a painting such as The Dew Makes a Star the relationship between destructive and creative forces is made explicit through the depiction of a flower opening up in the plumes of smoke arising out of a Turneresque seascape of shimmering ships and fog below.
While the Krut show acts as a demonstration of the techniques Hindley mastered during his experience with the studios printmakers – linking his printing work to his painting – it also provides a sneak peak of a forthcoming return to figurative work thanks to the inclusion of a selection of process drawings for several upcoming portraits. However this is not merely a technical exercise meant to dryly demonstrate Hindley’s undeniable skills in a variety of mediums. The delicate balance of the relationship between creation and destruction is ever present and there’s a careful juxtaposition of the violent beauty of the destruction that these flames render in the quiet marvel of the natural surroundings in which they occur . (Whether that’s the water from which smoke billows or the sky from which missiles erupt on their deadly voyages to the ground below.)
In the end Oppenheimer became a fervent proponent of an end to the use of nuclear weapons, a man who when you watch interviews with him you can’t help but notice the deep look of regret burned, like that mushroom cloud, deep into his eyes. Where Hindley’s work reminds us of the seductive beauty, metaphorical renewal, and creative potential of images of destruction, Oppenheimer serves as a shaken witness to what lies on the other side of the smoke and flames.