Awkward bedfellows

2012-01-14 12:36

It’s very hard to make the Albert Werth Hall of the Pretoria Art Museum feel crowded with artwork.

Yet, that’s exactly what the current exhibition, entitled Play-Off and featuring the works of painter Lance Friedlander and sculptor constructionist Gordon Froud, has managed to do.

It’s a great show if sheer size and mass is meant to count for anything when considering the merit of an exhibition.

However, this is in no way an attempt to knock the merit of the work here. This is a show of two creators fully in charge of their facilities.

The question is whether their work is not lost by them being lumped together, forcing the viewer to seek out a dialogue between them, however tenuous.

That criticism aside, one would be hard-pressed to find fault with Friedlander’s charged paintings.

Perhaps the first entry point into the painter’s vocabulary is to imagine that South Africa’s fantastic Judith Mason got together with British portraitist Francis Bacon to create a child.

That child would be Friedlander.

Think of Bacon’s work such as his 1961 Paralytic Child Walking on All Fours and Mason’s bedevilled Self Portrait, 1984.

That should be enough of the dreaded artist comparisons to give context lest we miss Friedlander’s actual work.

His images, to begin with, conjure dreamscapes of yellow skies, purple people, swashbuckling hyenas and other animals of the wild.

Friedlander’s paintings situate him in that space where surrealism morphs into abstract expressionism, employing highly charged iconography and intense application of pigment.

The painter tastefully arranges his picture planes into broad fields or blocks of colour that contrast and complement each other in good tempo.

These charmed spaces are then textured at convenient intervals by wild figures of man and animals.

The painterly rhythm here is provided largely by the artist’s brushwork and some clever scumbling and glazing.

The acrylic and oil on canvas work titled Cry The Beloved Country stands as the best example of Friedlander’s vision.

The work tactfully depicts men of different hues, though not of different races, framed against a barren ochre land mass that recedes into the horizon.

The pregnant yellow sky broken by stretches of cumulus clouds, which is balanced by a series of dark silhouettes of acacia trees and the glazed spots of a hyena.

The wild dog forms find harmony in the company of the crudely painted male figures.

The same approach is repeated with some variation on a work titled Influential Incident.

Here, we find an abstracted lioness or a dog that seems interested in something other than the dancing figure of a purple male in a white vest.

There’s a vulture that looks on at the twisting human, suggesting that what we are witnessing is not joyous movement but the contortions of a dying body.

This theme of death is continued by Froud’s contribution.

Set upon set of forms of viruses sculpted in a plethora of mediums.

These are unified into “four bodies of interrelated sculptures that use the repetition of forms and objects in various configurations to construct meaning about the human condition, particularly with regard to DNA, babies, genetics, bacteria, viruses and self-images”, as the curator’s notes explain.

Like Potch Venue New Viruses, this is actually a cricket ball with wooden stakes sticking out of it.

There’s also a gypsum plaster set of cast sculptures like Unity, a lumpy mush-up of foetuses.

The two vastly different approaches to art-making are hard to reconcile into a unified narrative.

Hence, if there’s to be any gripe against this show, it is curatorial.

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