artists' books

Dog star, celebrated


DOG at rest, an ink wash work on paper by Sue Pam-Grant.

TANTALLON PEGASUS IS the quirky name of what appears to be a pointer. He’s big, he’s bony, he’s got a patent and well-developed sense of humour and he’s entirely vulnerable. Lying this way and that, asleep, with his ears back, his legs spread or curled up in a ball of dogness, he is the dog you encounter in Dogscapes, a new exhibition by Sue Pam-Grant. But this exhibition is less about the artist’s pet than it is about her curious exploratory line, and the manner in which she plays with a medium brand new to her working practice.

The pristine space on the left as you enter 33 Twickenham Avenue, the building in which the South African Research Chair Initiative is housed, is filled with a body of etchings and monoprints with ink wash; yet its flamboyance seems muted. Until you come up close, that is.

Nine etched images, printed with the assistance of Newtown’s Artists’ Proof Studio, form a curated whole, framed in one frame, on the facing walls of the space. There’s a series of work laid out on the floor and a series of works in wash laid out on trestle tables in the centre of the room. There’s also a large ink drawing of the dog in question lying in a comfortable ball. It’s exhibited on a carpet on the floor. So, from the very outset, this exhibition pushes classical exhibiting parameters.

As you approach the works, however, all the jesting and internal doggy jokes fall away. Pam-Grant’s cursory, exploratory line, sometimes frail under the impact of the subject she draws, and the intaglio press used to make the work, sometimes robust and direct, investigates the anatomy and personality of her dog in a loose and unprecious line. The line is allowed to skirt with abstraction around the proverbial landscape of dogness that Tantallon Pegasus offers, as it retains a modicum of being descriptive. With this line, you get to understand much about the subject of the focus, the medium she is playing with, and the possibilities of a project ring fenced, edited and curated, very well, in this show.

And loose lines and grey backgrounds might offer a digression from the idea of correctness in intaglio printmaking, you might think. In this exhibiting context, however, and surrounded by the professional apparatus of published etchings – there’s a concertina-bound artist’s book magnificently in slip case covers on show with the aid of archival gloves in the gallery’s reception area – the body of work attains and retains a very particular gravitas.

It is through all of these lines and washes, where things are allowed to bleed and flow together and over other things; where chance is allowed to happen, that a dog is revealed and celebrated in a way that makes you fall in love with him, even if you have never met him.  Dogscapes is about an artist taking a line for a walk in the same way that she may,  her big beautiful bounding hound.

  • Dogscapes by Sue Pam-Grant is curated by Alexander Opper at the Gallery for the SARChi Chair for South African Arts and Visual Culture, 33 Twickenham Avenue, Auckland Park, until mid June. 011 559 7221 or visit Pam-Grant’s website here.

Leave a Reply