Everard Read, Cape Town
02.09 - 26.09.2020
After a deluge, one of many in a sodden Cape Town winter, light pours through the studio window in Woodstock, Cape Town. The mountain and highway are blotted out, concrete buildings soaked, a turquoise blue garage-roof the only bright thing in a blur. On the windowsill a plate of rusty lemons, a pot plant, rusty too, though life still lingers green. On a wooden desk the stricken plant casts its shadow. Two lamps are angled about drying sunflowers in a sparkling blue vase, near ovoid, an upended eye. Lapis Lazuli. Madonna blue.
In this painting of a vase of limp sunflowers, Hoogervorst has sketched the rudimentary coordinates and concordances that allow one to take hold of the world, see it. A line, fleck, squab of colour, runnel of paint, a shape, then another. Because nothing quite holds the eye, directs attention, looseness prevails. A sketch is not the beginning of something, it is everything, and nothing, or, nothing quite, because what binds the eye’s saccadic flickering grasp is the realisation that forms, shapes, the things we espy, take hold barely. Forms quaver, things judder, a featureful yet featureless soup. Morphogenetic, things – paintings – self-organise. A feedback loop, the eye, brain, imagination, seeks structure inside the unpredictable, but what it cannot countenance, pull together, is the void.
If Hoogervorst is drawn to this one vase, it is because of its elongation and deep glassy blue, a colour once considered divine, more precious than any other. But more than this, it is the void it contains, which contains it, that seems to matter most. A shape that binds all that is unbounded, boundless. Lao Tzu understood this lesson well when, in the Tao Te Ching, he spoke of a vessel as wholly reliant upon the void, the vessel’s non-being. In the painting on the studio wall it is this lesson that returns. But I think that all Hoogervorst’s paintings tell us this. They search for form in formlessness, announce shape as a conjuring. Their tension, soup, blobs and patches, line, is chemical.
Paintings assemble, dissemble, pluck form out of chaos. This, at least, is what I think Hoogervorst is doing. He pulls, distends, marks, rubs out. His paintings are colour fields, geometries, geographies. Two related traditions dominate, still life and landscape painting. The one exists in the other, they are never separate. If this is so it is because things echo, space bleeds. Nothing stills. The mood of his paintings, deceptively somnolent, is in fact unquiet, the viewer’s eye is never eased. Instead, it is provoked, animated, driven beyond its nascent desire, always, to pool, gather up, complete its enterprise and arrive upon what it longs for most: to rest. Something it never does, because it cannot, because too much fills the eye, slips past its banks. You can’t put a lid on it, on looking. And yet we imagine that paintings of things, a vase of sunflowers, a landscape, are consoling, that they appease and heal, bind us. This delusion, illusion, is structural. It arises through the painter’s arrangement of the world, the agreement which he-she-they conspires, aspires, to reinforce.
Consider a painting – The Boxing Academy – in which Hoogervorst positions a building in smudged reddish browns near the centre of a field of chalk and blue greens. Everything in the making directs the eye to that point, place, structure. There, in that rudimentary form, the colour field breaks, decelerates, pauses. We linger, through the detail we see the whole. But what of the encompassing swathes of sky and field? Are they consorts? Bit-players in a lone drama? Or, is it not the entirety that allows for a singularity?
Everything requires context, exists because of it. The false hierarchy we instil, the pyramidal form we ascribe to value, the close-up, medium and long shot which cinema inherits from the Quattrocento system, the staple of landscape painting, cannot eschew the fact that nothing, and everything, converges at the same time. The eye is not as selective as we think, it is anarchic. If it alights upon an object of interest, it does so only to sustain its delusory belief that it can arrange the world. Contrasts are not as sharp as we think them to be, far more blurs than coalesces or inheres. Colours break, blob, patch, pool, they cannot overcome their connectedness and frisson. The building in The Boxing Academy may be a distinctive smudge, but if it contains itself, it is because it is contained in turn. It will not exist without the swathes of chalk and blue greens that encroach and stretch away, without a greater dispersing and infinite volume, without the void that contains and extends its song.
Langa, a horizontal rush of blues and whites, structurally echoes The Boxing Academy, but the focus, here, is depleted, the blurring movement omnipresent. One sees the painting in a passing flash. Structures glimmer barely, the world conceived in passing a reminder of the little we take in and absorb. It is this little, this flashing fleeting moment, which Hoogevorst transforms into a painterly aria, a lone song. His paintings do not speak to collectives or crowds, suppose no consensus or ideological agreement. Instead, what they remind us of is that we are crowded out, hardwired to noise, and, as such, deprived of an ability to maintain the glimmerings which refuse rational integration. When Hoogervorst paints he does not represent a finite thing or finite idea, instead he conjures unconditional conditions.
Hoogervorst’s paintings of vases of flowers are not only the ‘deconstructions’ he claims them to be, but also missed constructions which remind us that re-presentation, the construction of what something looks like, is also a misapplication. If the painter veers between the thing and its non-being, substance and void, it is because he either chooses, or, unbidden, finds himself caught ‘between’ stations, places, conditions, worlds. This being in-between and unresolved, is in-and-of itself, unremarkable. We all find ourselves thus. What matters far more than this existential hiccup and dread is the boon it offers. Hoogervorst’s paintings reveal the fecund mystery that lies in nothingness. Unable to distinguish one thing from another, compelled to lodge oneself in a blur, is not a failing, but an inevitable and unenviable fact. What matters is how one grasps this fate.
On the white wall above Hoogervorst’s laptop is a single capitalised word written in a faint grey – ‘Believe’. Beneath it is a white post-it that reads, ‘Make Art Like Pneuma’. I am struck by this equation. Pneuma refers to ‘the vital spirit, soul, or creative force of a person’, its stoical root is the big reveal. A movement which flourished for 400 years in ancient Rome and Greece, Stoicism has returned with an irresistible force. Its purpose is to help us sustain ourselves in the face of dread, cope with anxiety, rage, fear, confusion, and, profoundly, to help us deal with a loss of perspective. Stoicism stills one in a time of chaos. If pneuma matters to Hoogervorst, it is because it allows him to manage noise, temper chaos, find perspective in the face of its catastrophic loss. It is the singularity not the solipsism of individual pursuit that matters.