29.04 - 10.06.2021
‘Against a Narrow Heart’ is a collection by Christiaan Conradie, a South African born artist that has also lived in Mexico. Conradie uses the aged male body as his primary focus and an anchor for his works. Upon walking into the 131 A Gallery, an overwhelming feeling of comfort, intrigue and a vibrant, party like atmosphere overcomes the senses. The artworks contain many additional elements such as found materials, arts and crafts items, bright flashy lights and flowers. It’s truly magnificent to witness. Conradie’s work is focused on the consistent subject in each of his work, an old white male, assumed to be a family member of his, painted in the form of hyperrealism in a fantasy atmosphere.
Conradie has achieved a sense of taking the old form of portraiture and making it new through his stylistic choice and has done so through his ability to allow the audience to revaluate their stance on ageism. As a young woman living with her grandparents, I have only ever focused on the negatives as they arise, the loss of hearing, the inability to walk, but never focused on the beauty of age and the shift towards a positive, admirable outlook on ageing. Conradie continues to challenge what older people are suppose to be through his use of colour, background and setting. The work I have decided to focus on is We Were Digging and We Were Dancing (2021).
Upon observing this particular piece, I was really drawn to the masculine form in what seems to be a highly decorated uniform. The red colour of the uniform is contrasted with the light pink background that playfully alludes to a feminine element. What I found so distinct here was the fact a red uniform signifies a somewhat younger male form, a very masculine presence and association with a high-profile job or the military? But instead, placing an elderly man in the artwork indeed indicates an individual with experience in the industry, probably well-known and successful with a factor of authority and fearsome exterior but placed in a setting that is rather gentle and approachable. This play on the contrast between the two truly highlights the ability to make the audience engage further than normal with this character, noting the achievement medals but ability to show a softer side with the use of a plastic rose to the left of the medals.
Not only does this portrait have a contrast between subject and background but the real playful element is seen in the detail of his clothing – the light blue polka-dot touch on the uniform, the use of found ribbon and string. It took me a while to grasp exactly what Conradie was trying to achieve through this specific piece but I can conclude that he made a remarkable break-through in telling a story that allows the aged to be relevant, alive and for their stories to be told through his artwork. It feels as though this piece reflects a sense that every person has a history, a story, a life that can be shared, experienced and cherished by everyone.
Aged individuals also have a voice, a dream, a story that is just as significant as someone in their youth. Conradie achieves this and allows the audience to rethink our existence and the reality as magical as it can be. The exhibition offers a reimagined view on agism and an aspect like no other that idolises age in the form of beauty and importance. In a world so fixated on youth and the idealism of body, beauty and wealth, I think Conradie’s take on a form of aged beauty, is truly wonderful and admirable, especially in a time as crucial as now with the fear of aged lives lost to COVID by giving aged lives a necessary voice, a youthful spirit and showing their side of the story. The exhibition as a whole focuses on the positives rather than the negatives of growing old. This exhibition is a light-hearted, fun statement for the emergence of beauty in age and a commemoration to the older generation. This becomes particularly relevant at this time where older people in our society are more vulnerable than before.