Review of 2018 show Vertoef / Linger, Johan Myburg (Beeld, English)

Vertoef / Linger – Andries Gouws

Pretoria Art Museum

Johan Myburg

Andries Gouws: Wall and Easel, Cité des Arts, Paris, 2016 (280 x 430 mm)

Perhaps we should resort more often to ‘perhaps’, I believe the Afrikaans poet Van Wyk Louw said, responding to the confidence with which we assert things, the certainty we display when making judgements. This possibly is also true for the ways in which one bandies labels in the arts, with classifications into genres such as landscape and portrait, interior and still life. And – attributing meaning.

This is what one becomes conscious of again in Andries Gouws’ latest exhibition, Vertoef / Linger. Gouws brings together work made between 2012 and 2018, all of which could in some way be still lifes (rather than “natures mortes”), just as they could all be landscapes, or portraits; works which inhabit a space somewhere in between classifications. What is a still life of a quince other than a portrait of a quince, what is a portrait of a man other than a still life, and what is an interior other than a landscape?

Gouws examines the still life from different points of view and assesses it in different ways, nevertheless in each of the thirty odd paintings an ineffable moment is given form (with a nod in the direction of Vermeer). More specifically, the existence of the moment is secured in paint: a shaft of light on a floor; light on a mountain ridge; the fleshiness of a quince.

Although the inexorable passing of things (such as light that can fade or a fruit that can decompose) is not emphasized, the viewer becomes aware of transience, of the “lingering” which presupposes a beginning and an end. As a sojourn in the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris is temporary.

Wall and Easel, Cité des Arts, Paris, 2016, is one of a series of Cité paintings which express this impermanence, the hour at which the sun fell on the green floor so that the room came alive for that one moment. When looking at the painting from one side to the other one finds: a glass pane with a balustrade and a suggestion of Paris, a folding table with a green cloth, an empty easel, a cabinet with on it a microwave, a blank artist’s canvas and a wooden door. But it isn’t these objects or their representation, or a possible narrative, which engage the attention as much as the way in which this interior is given form. The way in which the artist organizes the scene and offers it to the viewer. “The innocent eye is a myth,” remarked the art historian Ernst Gombrich, “all perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons.”

This aspect is further reinforced by the fact that Gouws spends hours to find a form which captures the moment and indeed compels the viewer, as it were, to look more slowly. The viewer still finds this aspect of Gouws’ art striking and enchanting, even though it has been written about repeatedly.

Sky, Mountain, Clouds (2017), portrays, like the interiors, not the land, but rather the way in which the landscape is embodied in paint. In any case, we don’t see things the way they are, the American writer Anaïs Nin reportedly said, we see them the way we are.

If one keeps this in mind a painting like Father and Son, Sleeping (2016-2018) can be an interior, and a landscape, and a still life. An interior with a play of light and shadow, a landscape with mountain ridges and valleys, a still life of a cloth with folds.

Perhaps one should refrain from talking and instead just look at, and keep on looking at, this show of Andries Gouws’.

Till 29 April. After that this exhibition will be on view from 22 May till 10 June at the KZNSA in Durban and from 3 till 24 August in the Irma Stern Museum in Cape Town.