The colour of expression

2009-07-28 00:00

AS a child, Thomas Vermuelen was fascinated by the colourful patterns and prisms in a kaleidoscope — and from today Pietermaritzburg residents can see that same love reflected in his work at the Jack Heath Gallery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Ridge Road.

His exhibition, titled Kaleidoscope, will include paintings, ceramics, photographs and illustrations from his children’s book, Gabangani Guinea Fowl and Huzu the Bird Eating Spider.

Asked why he had chosen the word “kaleidoscope”, he said: “It best describes the work for my exhibition, even though not all my work is in the kaleidoscope format.

“First of all, there is variation — variation of the elements within the kaleidoscope, the different themes as subject matter and the four different disciplines represented in this exhibition. Although the dominant theme is nature there is a legion of possibilities within this single theme.

“Secondly, there is the element of colour. I think my whole exhibition can be described as colourful, but not in the shallow, superficial sense of the word.”

Vermuelen, a former fine art lecturer who lives in Wembley, has no particular favourite when it comes to the medium of his work.

“I enjoy all of them — one feeds the other. My photography inspires my paintings and vice versa, and both help with the ceramics,” he added.

He works mainly in acrylics when he paints, but uses a variety of styles when creating his ceramics, including cut glazing and painted slip designs. Some of the pieces are thrown, while others are hand built.

For his photographic work, Vermuelen uses digital imaging. “I like to explore the possibilities of images,” he says.

“In the old days you spent hours in the dark room, but with software you do the same thing in a few minutes and you have a lot more control. But whichever format you use, you have to have a good image to start with — that’s paramount.”

Vermuelen is also enjoying his new challenge, writing and illustrating books. His first literary effort, Gabangani Guinea Fowl and Huzu the Bird Eating Spider, published by Eloquent Books in New York, tells the story of a little guinea fowl who is left with just his mother for company after his father and siblings are killed.

The tragedy makes him so sad that he stops growing, leaving him vulnerable to the villain of the story, Huzu, because he can’t fly. Ultimately, however, the birds of the coastal forest band together to defeat the spider.

Vermuelen said he wanted to promote the birds and animals of South Africa through the book.

“We grow up with so many books about robins and magpies, but I believe we need to have books which illustrate our own birds and the Africa we grow up with,” he explained.

“I decided to weave them into a children’s story as a way of making children aware of the fauna and flora in our country. I think it is important to make children aware of the beauty that surrounds them.”

Images from the book, which is not available in South Africa yet, will form part of the exhibition.

• Kaleidoscope — an exhibition of ceramics, photography, painting and book illustration can be viewed at the Jack Heath Gallery, Centre for Visual Art at UKZN Pietermaritzburg from today until August 12. The exhibition will be opened by Professor Ian Calder this evening at 6 pm.

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