Big little paintings – works by Andries Gouws
Visual Arts Curator and former Curator of the Natal Society of Arts Galleries (NSA), Durban, South Africa
I first met Andries in the course of a busy gallery day when he presented to me, with conspicuous lack of fanfare, a small painting of the back of an electrical plug. Having been schooled as a Buddhist I was willing and witting to accept that less is in fact more but so littlemore paintings please. What followed renewed my faith in the meek inheriting the earth and we planned what, in retrospect was a hauntingly beautiful solo exhibition.
Gouws relates his visual work to his concern with his own “anti-philosophical philosophical investigations” – he refers to the sense that disappointments (in his life) have left their mark on his works “even if I can’t say exactly how.” Here lies the rub. By expressing what Defoe in “Serious Reflections” names ‘one universal act of solitude’ Gouws engages the viewer’s emotions in what can only be described as an existential way.
There is a Mongolian proverb which goes something like this. ‘before enlightenment a man wakes up, makes love to his wife, gets up, has breakfast, goes out, tills the fields, comes home, has dinner, goes to bed, makes love to his wife and goes to sleep. After enlightenment a man wakes up, makes love to his wife, gets up, has breakfast, goes out, tills the fields, comes home, has dinner, goes to bed, makes love to his wife and goes to sleep.’ Simply put Gouws’s viewer will never be able to look at a plug (or a shell, or a suitcase on top of a cupboard) in quite the same way again. These paintings share the quiet purpose of requiems. That is to validate an unspeakable humanity that – well – makes us human.
Despite the artist’s somewhat melancholic palette, composition, dare I say choice of subject, his paintings offer upliftment disproportionate to their scale and intent. Almost without exception Gouws has chosen a perspective that photographers call ‘shooting low’. His subjects are quite literally viewed from what could be the sight line of a six year old or, revealingly, an adult on his knees. This pervasive sense of humility or supplication raises the question (crucial) of whether one can ‘touch’ this energy or rather can one allow this energy to touch one. Thus Gouws’s work (technically brilliant) seems to reflect only the residue of his experience. Perhaps this is what he calls “purification (of my work) of ideological certitude.” I call it refreshing.
Gouws brings to the increasingly jaundiced art public’s palate a childlike innocence, which we seem to have forgotten in the face of our obsession with original sin (read relevance). Gouws’s work needs little political or social justification – some little things are bigger than that.
Bren Brophy studied Philosophy and Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. He was the curator for all the art exhibitions on the occasion of the World AIDS Conference recently held in Durban. His clients include the Durban Art Gallery and the University of the Witwatersand.