INSTINCTIVELY, YOU CAN hear the gentle, almost innocuous concatenation of 1960s office party dialogue as you look at these paintings, with the delicate clink of glasses and the understated and polite chatter, the men in their tuxedos and cufflinks and the women in their cocktail best. You can almost smell their perfume as they whisper. This is Karin Preller’s latest body of exhibited work, and in many respects, while it rests firmly on her own traditions of foraging through personal photographic archives, which she has established over many years, it takes unprecedented leaps in refreshing and important directions for her oeuvre.
Intimately ensconced in what is known as the Collectors’ Room of the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, these seven pieces in blue tints and tones boast brushmarks which are looser than we’ve ever seen of Preller. What happens is the hard-boiledness and the irrepressible sense of perfection takes a side seat to something far more compelling, less containable and more indicative of the artist’s maturity.
While the works are dim in their tonality and present a slice of life that can at times feel harsh, the energy and subtlety of the work gives it the gravitas to stand on its own, and yet, as in The Unofficial Party, where a young woman in her shift dress sits on a verandah chair and smokes, a playful pathway into the untrammeled sexiness of the era, the fabric of the time, is honed.
And similarly, there’s a painting which takes a detail of another work, called Function 1960s and blows it up. Here, the two women side by side, become almost gestural shapes. But what they seem to lose in their polished sense of identity, they gain in terms of the subtlety and the directness of the painting itself. You look upon the relationship of startling hints of venetian yellow against the deep teal of the work, and the swathe of colour which describes the dress of the woman on the right, and you think directly of the work of German Expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, sans the crude and harsh colours.
Less emotionally bleak than her previous body of work, Preller’s Extracts, which also includes three strong slice-of-life drawings in charcoal on paper, is an immensely vital development for her as a painter. Looking at these pieces, it feels as though Preller’s whole career of working with photographs, memories and the cloying intractable nature of paint was pointing toward this kind of direction.
- Extracts, an exhibition of new work by Karin Preller is on show in the Collectors’ Room at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, 1146 Justice Mahomed Street (formerly 430 Charles Street) Brooklyn, Pretoria, until July 23. 012 346 0158 or www.friedcontemporary.com