Challenging the darkness

2010-04-13 00:00

OPENING today at the Jack Heath Gallery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Ridge Road, Pietermaritzburg, is an exhibition of challenging new works by Valerie Leigh.

A former Tatham Art Gallery curator, Leigh has been encouraged by Professor Ian Calder and Ardmore Ceramic Art’s Fee Halsted-Berning to stage the exhibition, titled Love the Night, Take Care of the Night.

Most of the 11 oil paintings and 14 small drawings in pen and colour wash that are on show date from 2007. Speaking to me ahead of today’s opening, Leigh said: “I had difficulty getting a venue because they are quite challenging works … but art is meant to deal with issues and not to just be a decoration on a wall. We can’t have a circumscribed view of what art should be or what it should do. Art doesn’t give answers, it asks questions.”

Referring to artist, Willem Botha, she said that when he was asked how he had succeeded in art, he said it was owing to having the “power to battle it out”.

“I certainly wouldn’t put myself on the same level as him,” Leigh said, “but I believe artists should realise that fact. If art stops being a battle then you’re a bit stuck.”

The title of the exhibition came to her after she heard about an Aids project called Love Your Life, Take Care Of Your Life. “I thought they were saying “love the night, take care of the night” and it struck a chord because the night is dark and can be sinister. You must love it so you don’t get caught up in the darkness,” Leigh said.

Many of the works in the exhibition have been inspired by images from television. “I have adopted a cartoon-like or comic book approach to some of the works in order to challenge ­accepted ideas of form and substance and thus draw attention to my subject matter,” Leigh explained.

“Perhaps three of the works are different and present a more lyrical approach, perhaps enveloping the other works into deeper, kinder views of human life.”

All, however, at their heart, ask questions about the values of modern society, questioning the values of people who seem caught up in the ­desire for instant fame, celebrity and material possessions. “I want to make people think about the things that we value,” Leigh said.

• Love The Night, Take Care of The Night can be seen at the Jack Heath Gallery, Centre for Visual Arts, UKZN, Pietermaritzburg, until April 23. Gallery hours are 9 am to 4 pm, weekdays.

• Valerie Leigh will be holding a walkabout of her exhibition on April 19 and 20 at 1 pm.

WHO IS VALERIE LEIGH?

VALERIE Leigh graduated with a BA Honours (cum laude) from the then University of ­Natal in 1957. She completed her ­Masters in the history of art at the university in 2001 and a PhD in art history in 2009.

From 1958 to 1959 she studied under Arthur Lismer at the Montreal Museum of Art, before heading to France where she studied at the Ecole des Beau Arts in Paris.

Leigh was curator of the Tatham Art Gallery from 1967 to 1974, curator of painting and sculpture at the South African National Gallery in Cape Town from 1974 to 1979, and art co-ordinator of the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service from 1984 to 1997.

She has exhibited work as both a solo artist and as part of group exhibitions at the Tatham Art Gallery, the Jack Heath Gallery and artSPACE durban, and her work can be found in the Tatham, the KZN provincial collection and in ­private collections at home and abroad.

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