What does a single portrait painting capture? Traditionally portraiture captured a picture perfect second but we might wonder about the deeper meaning behind that portrait. We might want to know what the person was like, their hobbies, their purpose, their story. Those layers, although not traditionally explored in portrait painting, can be seen in great depth in the work of Georgina Gratrix. Layers of paint displayed on canvases capture the multi-dimensional being and suggest an appreciation for the backstory and a dedication to their life experiences.
Georgina Gratrix is a Mexican-born, Durban-bred artist who studied fine art in Cape Town. Her works featured at the Norval Foundation in the exhibition titled ‘The Reunion’ comprise a series of portraits and also some still life’s reflecting different aspects of her life. Upon first glance, the exhibition feels chaotic, thoughtless and messy. However upon closer attention, there are certain elements of layered detail that are personal, fun and intriguing. The colourful layers portrayed in each piece tell a story of their own and the exhibition itself becomes an exciting, playful and ultimately fascinating experience. Gratrix’s work can be seen to challenge the norms of portraiture and instead of the focus being surface level, Gratrix places emphasis on the layered understanding of a person and their multifaceted relationships.
‘The Reunion’ comprises of smaller sub sections, one titled ‘Meet the Family’. ‘Meet the Family’ shows two portraits, one of her mother and one of her father. Her parents, situated side by side, tell their own story juxtaposing her wall of self-portraits titled Nine Weeks directly opposite the pair. Firstly the portrait of her mother titled 80’s Mom shows a multidimensional portrait that takes on the layers of understanding that is her mother; a person she has gotten to know throughout her childhood and adolescence implying more layers of comprehension due to the evolution of their relationship. This particular work created in 2011 shows the most related elements associated with her mother’s personality and is suggestive of the 80’s era having a vivid hold on Gratrix’s association with her mother. The typical 80’s elements such as the hooped earrings and shoulder pads with smaller illusions of blue eyeshadow take the eye of the audience on a journey across different parts of her face and places emphasis on her interpretation of her mother through components she deemed prominent.
The History of Dad similarly has layers to his face to suggest layers of comprehension and understanding. Her relationship with a person assumed to be so close to her and influential in her upbringing is reflected in the layers and diverse use of colour and materials. There are elements of glitter that suggest closeness to raising a little girl and
partaking in dress up with the use of the bow in his hair. These significant elements alluding to traditionally feminine features are suggestive of a close father-daughter relationship when Gratrix was little and her fondest memories and moments attached with defining her father.
On the opposite side of the gallery, parallel to the parent portraits, Nine Weeks is a series of self-portraits created during the South African nationwide lockdown in 2020. Gratrix captured a small painting created each day to represent herself as lockdown progressed. Each self-portrait is unique and telling in its nature. The works are displayed side by side as if to represent the progress of personal feelings associated with each day of forced self-observation. The self-portraits are significant when compared to her parents portraits due to their lack of layered content because they are painted using watercolour and not the oil found elsewhere. Despite the flatness of these works, it can be understood that across these nine weeks of self-portraiture, each painting is possibly a different layer of experience.
Gratrix’s exhibition is playful by nature and reflects her attempt at creating an ongoing multi-faceted gallery of human beings that explore the experiences and events that have shaped them. The exhibition itself is non-traditional in its energy and power to allow the audience to have fun and interact with the space in a way that is less serious and more light-hearted. As a result, this exhibition shows great appreciation for layered portraiture, steering away from art forms that lack depth and personal comprehension. This exhibition allows for an alternative approach to exist in a space that is inclusive and unique while challenging the viewers perception of the subjects seen throughout this exhibition.