Divine inspiration through art

2012-08-16 00:00

POWERFUL imagery is a hallmark of Pietermaritzburg artist Valerie Leigh’s work, and for her latest exhibition, Lumo, which can be viewed in the Tatham Art Gallery from today, she’s hoping her paintings inspire debate, discussion and a desire to revisit the books of the Old Testament.

Drawing on imagery from the Judeo-Christian period and the words of Psalms from the Bible, she has created bold, colourful works that celebrate spiritual moments.

Her depiction of the temple of Solomon, for example, includes the Jewish cherubs, which would have stood on either side of the Arc of the Covenant, and the joyous celebrations of the faithful entering the holy space.

Some of the inspiration for this work comes from the words of Psalm 100: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come into his presence with singing.”

Other paintings feature imagery of the earth’s animals, oceans and natural resources; the stars, sun and moon; representations of the right hand of God; and one which shows the earth breaking beneath the feet of the needy.

Speaking about the latter, Leigh said: “It’s my view of people in power not doing what they are supposed to do to help the poor and weak in our country.”

As for what had inspired the series of paintings, Leigh said she was keen to look back in history, to the days of the Old Testament.

“The first temple [of Solomon] is so relevant to us ... I wanted people to see it again. Familiarity can breed contempt, so I wanted the works to be a bit startling, to make people think,” she said.

The exhibition also features paintings that Leigh says were inspired by spiritual visions. They include one striking work of Christ ascending into heaven and presenting his blood to God. “He went into heaven and put it on the altar, but you’d be surprised how many people and how many Christians don’t know that,” Leigh said.

The final part of the Lumo exhibition is a series of paintings depicting every day human existence: birth, death, family and life’s demands. These paintings have been created using sepia colours and provide a sharp contrast to the bolder colours used by Leigh in her spiritual paintings.

Valerie Leigh’s thought-provoking Lumo exhibition opens at the Tatham Art Gallery in Chief Albert Luthuli (Commercial) Street, Pietermaritzburg at 6 pm today.

It will be run in the Schreiner Gallery space until October 27. There will be a walkabout on August 22 between 2.30 pm and 3.30 pm.

For more information, phone Thulani Makhaye at 033 392 2823 or Kobie Venter at 033 392 2819.

Safe parking with a car guard is available on the Church Street side of the gallery.

• arts@witness.co.za

 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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