On the ETCH of reason

2007-11-24 00:00

Although Durban North gallery Etchings etc is 14 years old, the upcoming “Together We Are One”, which opens on November 30 and runs for two weeks is its first exhibition.

Owners Wendy Cornell and her husband Garnet admitted that they had considered hosting exhibitions in the past and had discussed this with various artists, but the day-to-day hustle and bustle of running a popular gallery and sharing their love of art got in the way.

Instead, the two built up a “stable of artists” that have supported them. These artists were invited, along with a few newcomers and guest artists, to produce pieces specifically for the “Together We are One” exhibition — a theme inspired by the recent Rugby World Cup win.

However, Cornell believes the patriotism displayed after this single event could go a lot further. She points out that, when travelling, it is clear that South Africans have a unique ability to pull together, but that this needs to extend beyond standing together in times of crisis. She believes people need to “pull together more often”, especially when it comes to enjoying art and challenging artists themselves to work outside their comfort zones.

“Some [artists] knew exactly what they would do the moment I called,” she says.

Others were more thoughtful. The end products range from togetherness through joint activities or shared interests — cellphones, golf, photography or even painting itself — to more esoteric themes.

“Artists [who are exhibiting] are professionals, some have academic backgrounds while others are self taught. There is also good representation from both rural and urban areas with subject matter from landscape to floral, abstract to portraits. The artists’ interpretations of the theme aim to showcase a diversity of expression as well as a variety of techniques and creative approaches,” says Cornell.

There are at least 25 artists and between 50 and 100 unique works.

John Smith, the well-known Durban-based artist whose work has been purchased by collectors in America, Canada, Russia, Japan, the UK, Israel, New Zealand and Australia, is showing a number of pieces. His large body of work is in oils, watercolour and pastels and ranges from landscapes to figures to still lifes and even flowers, sea and city scapes.

Zimbabwean artist Makiwa Mutomba, whom Cornell describes as a “rising star and phenomenal artist”, will be flying to Durban for the exhibition. She says that she found Mutomba in a flea market in Johannesburg. He was “hungry for his art”. Today you can’t get his work for love or money, she adds.

Other participating artists include Martia Meyer, Shirley Howells, Zamani Makhanya and Charmaine Eastment. Peter Stuart and bead artist Bev Gibson, who is known for her beautiful works displayed in the Playhouse, will be guest artists.

Etchings etc started out as a framing and print specialist. It doubled in size within two years and then, three years ago, expanded yet again in order to have space to house original art. Now, it is selling far more original art than anything else.

It is a large gallery in terms of wall space and displays an incredibly diverse collection. There is a wide variety of contemporary art and some collectable art. “We have a stable number of artists that support us and we are pretty full. However, we are always there for the exceptions and encourage new art [in very clearly defined parameters]. We have a lot of art that fits into décor, but we do not want to be known as a décor gallery. We keep pleasing art that makes you think.”

Cornell has strong ideas about the calibre of artists she welcomes into the gallery. “One of my pet hates is artists who copy their own work or paint to a formula. They rely on their names and sell for huge amounts, but they might as well be selling prints. These artists compromise themselves as fine artists in the long term,” she says. Other keys are professionalism and passion — and a special dedication to one’s work.

She has equally strong opinions about how she welcomes people into her gallery.

“I hate intimidating galleries. This is something of a family. Our newest staff member has been here for seven years. Even though we are selling expensive art, we don’t need snobbery. We don’t throw jargon at you. There is really something for all here. We want people to come in and feel comfortable.”

•Etchings etc is in the Park Boulevard Centre in Browns Drift Road (off Riverside Road) Durban North. Its website is www.etchingsart.com.

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