A Sense of Place - Mapungubwe
Recently, I have wrapped myself in a light cocoon and been focussing on my own sense of place. Three very different landscapes feature in this exhibition of paintings and drawings.
Mapungubwe and the Kgalagadi are both trans-frontier parks, established precariously where bordering countries meet. These are extreme environments. The Kgalagadi is rugged, with an incongruent delicacy that is elusive during painting. The strong white light seems to dissolve the rocky ground and the vegetation. Painting the Kalahari challenged my familiar work processes; I struggled to make marks that were satisfyingly crisp, and eventually achieved some sense of place by building up a lattice of fine marks.
Mapungubwe seems closer to the sun than most places. Sun baked rocks punctuate the landscape, scoured by water courses that are now mostly dry. The red rocks are left to fend for themselves as the elements cause onion-skin weathering and the rocks exfoliate in layers when they heat up and cool down. Sitting in the twilight on the warm rocks anchored me to something deep under the surface of the earth.
Lichens have their own sense of place but of course it is a secretive world to which we are not always privy. They are found in almost every place on earth, but grow in specific niches, not because they want to grow there, but because nothing else can. They creep into landscapes incognito. Painting these curious creatures feels a bit like exposing them and so I call them ‘lichen portraits’ to reinstate some of their dignity. I would go as far as to say that I feel a kind of remorse in painting them and then sending them out into the world where they can’t fly under the radar any more. It’s silly, but lichens are my folly!
And then I am home, in the lush escarpment of Mpumalanga, sitting on my veranda and looking at the landscape that has been my anchor for twenty years. I know this place so intimately that I almost feel it instead of seeing it. This is dangerous territory when it comes to observational painting, because what you think you know may overwhelm what you see. Although my goal was not photographic realism, I wanted each of the twelve paintings (one for each month of the year) to be true to that exact place and the season. This was an interesting process because the location of my veranda stays constant, and yet each painting evokes a different feeling; intense observation coming full circle in the distillation of the marks and colours into something specific, yet familiar.
Playfully, and with great joy, working on this exhibition has resulted in my current mantra: the more specific a landscape painting, the more universal the interpretation and meaning.