Craig Canavan – Weekender

The art of less is more

The Weekender, 10-11 February 2007.


Like the Dutch master Vermeer, Durban artist Andries Gouws makes superb use of light and shadow, writes CRAIG CANAVAN.


PEOPLE with an old-fashioned sense of what art should be will be mighty pleased with the small but vibrant exhibition of paintings by Durban-based artist Andries Gouws entitled Hiding Behind Simple Things, currently on at the Pretoria Art Museum.


It was with a sense of growing wonder that I took in the simple but striking beauty of Gouws’ understated works, the kind of wonder I forgot art could arouse, the kind of wonder I last felt when I saw another local artist’s works, Walter Meyer, for the first time.


Like Meyer, Gouws keeps thing simple and the first thing to strike one is the sheer ordinariness of his subject matter. His paintings are not of grand landscapes or crowds of people but rather focus on everyday objects and scenes: a skull wrapped in domestic cling wrap; a lampshade hanging awkwardly in an empty room; a torn, old curtain blocking the bright light outside; a basket perched precariously atop a wardrobe.


Yet the seeming banality of the objects and scenes Gouws paints belie their hidden depths and in his masterful hands they radiate an immense beauty.

“In a sense my painting is meditative,” explains the artist, “both as a process and a product. I aim to slow down the viewer’s eye, to share my experience that everyday objects become transfigured when looked at closely.”


“I’m interested in that which is not articulated, I like to find forms for expressing the seemingly inexpressible.” Gouws’ small paintings, none of which are much bigger than A4 size, are reminiscent of the work of classic Dutch master Vermeer – no mere coincidence that; Gouws studied art in The Netherlands during the ’70s – and like Vermeer it’s in his magnificent use of light and shadow that Gouws’ art truly shines.


“I’ve always admired artists who were masters of light so it’s no surprise that I pay careful attention to it in my work,” he says. “Paintings that use light well are the kind of art I myself appreciate MOST so it’s very important to me.”

As is the use of colour and, surprisingly when you see the depth of colour in his paintings, Gouws often limits himself to using no more than three colours on any given painting, forcing himself to be creative in their application.

“I don’t like to be spoilt for choice colour-wise,” he says. “In one respect it is limiting but in another it sets you free. By limiting myself I force myself to focus on getting the mix exactly right. Only if you limit yourself do you have a fighting chance of achieving mastery .”


Gouws hasn’t always limited himself to such an extent and his first major forays into art as a teenager and young adult were in the world of abstract art and big canvases. He focused on graphics and etching for several years before finding his forte in the world of glorious simplicity.


In a manner of speaking, Gouws’ work could be filed under “found art” in that he seldom, if ever, sets a scene for himself to paint, preferring instead to find inspiration in what he sees around him, be it in his own house or garden, or further afield in the suburb, the city and the great outdoors.


“Well, I don’t really find things to paint,” he explains. “They find me. Often I’m inspired by something i see lying around the house. My wife (artist and writer Ingrid Winterbach) has a particular aesthetic of her own and she often arranges things in her own peculiar way around the house. I find that to be a big inspiration too, it’s almost like we’re silently collaborating.”


Though Gouws calls himself a representational artist in that he paints what he sees, his artistic vision makes reality seem unreal, almost surreal. He creates intense moods, of loneliness, isolation and despair as well as hope and happiness, through his poetic style. The fact that he is a philosophy teacher helps explain the clarity of intent of his work, as well as its contemplative, meditative quality.


But all the high-minded critical musings aside, his work is just plain beautiful. Less, as they say, is more, and Gouws’ paintings show how much truth there is in the cliché.


Hiding Behind Simple Things exhibits at the Pretoria Art Museum until March 25. Call (012) 344-1807 for more information.