Evocative paintings that connect

2008-09-04 00:00

“THE public expect kids on the beach from me, but I feel I could be so much more than that.” So says artist Coral Spencer Domijan. She is talking about how to make a living as a full- time artist — something she does successfully, but knows is always difficult, particularly in tough economic times. She has exhibited regularly over the last few years, becoming known for her beach scenes and for nude studies which are often commissioned from her.

Domijan knows what will sell, but is also keen to explore the boundary between commercial and academic work. Her beach scenes are full of nostalgia and light — painting the kind of holiday scenes we all imagine we had, even if the reality was sometimes different. But look carefully into her paintings, and you will see that the body shapes she paints are real, not perfect. “I’m interested in bodies — and that comes through, maybe taking a painting into that boundary area.” She points to a painting of a middle-aged couple walking on the sand. “Her bikini top is now so small, and the bottom so big. My body is going the same way. But there is a beauty in that.”

Her beach paintings had a beginning that was not commercial. As a child, her family moved every two years or so, and somehow during one move their holiday photographs vanished, leaving Domijan and her sister with a gap in their family’s nostalgia record. Domijan decided that she would recreate the scenes in paint. “So I reproduced them — I could remember them,” she says. But, before she could give them to her sister, someone else saw them and bought them. Her sister is still waiting and Domijan had accidentally found a sure-fire seller.

But now she feels the time has come to move on. She feels that she will always continue to paint figurative works but she wants to experiment, “splash” her paint and work in a looser style. “I need to learn when to stop,” she says, saying it is so easy to keep on “knitting” at a painting.

“When you have painted carefully for years, there comes a time when you feel you can let go. But you have to establish yourself first and then give yourself the freedom.”

Talking about painting, Domijan says that she used to know that one work in ten was absolutely right — “the ones where you hold your breath with every mark.” She is determined to tell herself not to paint the nine — just the one. She says her husband Robert, who is a landscape artist, will not paint for weeks and then one day will walk into his studio and produce a painting. But she does her thinking with a brush in her hand.

Not only do husband and wife work in different ways but also in separate studios. For her it is important — history shows that when two artists marry, it always seems to be the man who dominates: “Who remembers the name of Jackson Pollock’s wife?” she asks. “Yet in many ways she was the stronger artist.”

And so, their working lives are kept apart — no joint exhibitions, though they have been offered them; discussions of other artists’ work but not of each other’s. “It’s a way to survive without artists’ egos getting in the way.”

It is another balancing trick for Domijan — two artists balancing their home life, just as she has to balance commercial painting with work in which she can explore herself.

• To contact Domijan about her work, phone Lucy du Plessis of Senses Gallery on 082 789 5494 or e-mail lucy@sensesart.co.za

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