STARE INTO THE harsh winter light outside for a second or two and then close your eyes, tight for another second or two. That afterimage that has burnt itself into your eyeballs is what contemporary American philosopher Timothy Morton mooted an electric peanut, and this is the focus of Port Elizabeth-based painter Jonathan Silverman, in this, his debut exhibition.
But as you walk through this modestly-sized gallery space and allow each work to speak to you, it is neither electricity nor aftershocks of light that engage you. Rather, you feel more moored in modernist reflections on colour and the genre of landscape.
Silverman’s video, clocking in at 10 minutes and 45 seconds, central to the exhibition, sums up the conceptual nub of each of the paintings on show and it will hold your focus as a kaleidoscope does. You will not be able to stop watching it transition. As you stand there, you’re conscious that the thinking behind his work becomes incidental to how it seduces you, colouristically.
The video itself is by no means perfect – the transitions between colouristic incidents are too long, the screen sits uncomfortably under a white rectangle on the wall – but it has an energy within it that will not let you look at it glibly. As you stand there, you think of the gradual magic that happens when paper is marbled or when frottage, a la German surrealist Max Ernst (1891-1976), is played with. There’s a mystical cadence and overture to the ebb and flow, the give and take of what you think is landscape, but ultimately it is colour and contrast.
This is echoed in the body of 12 works in oil on canvas in the rest of this curious, hybrid space that is not only a gallery but also a production company and an espressobar. It’s small, but the space is deftly divided and if you’re there to look at the work, you’re freed to do so, down a narrow passage.
With a fabulous line drawing by Peter Mammes on the left wall as you walk in, Priest is a self-consciously arty space, but it’s one that curiously restrains that artiness from bruising the work on show here. Silverman plays with the notion of landscape, the notion of abstraction and the potency of colour in a way that makes you think differently about what a painting actually is.
You may not find the elusive electric peanut described in the show’s title, here, but what you will see will take you to a different plane of colouristic possibility. It’s an intellectual show with colours to blow your senses.
- Searching for an Electric Peanut by Jonathan Silverman is at Priest Gallery, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until July 27.