Still, but never sedate: Colbert Mashile’s things, shelved


A worm and two dishes: Colbert Mashile’s “8-ism”, a drawing in Indian Ink and charcoal on paper. Photograph courtesy Everard Read Gallery.

THE STILL LIFE genre is so well used as a safe teaching device, you may consider it to have a long beard and scant relevance. Truth is, it’s not just a didactic exercise about decent perceptual skills. There’s a whole rich history behind it about contemplations of mortality and vanity central to the artist’s choice of objects and the manner in which it is articulated. Colbert Mashile’s current exhibition offers a gloss on still lives in a manner that touches both his repertoire for hybrid beasts and the objects and values that make us African.

As We Are is a robust exhibition comprising just 13 works, in Indian Ink and charcoal on paper. Collectively, they have a luminosity that leaps off the page, and a gritty, worked quality of line that makes you think they are stone lithographs. They feel as though they were made with speed and freshness; they’re feisty and bold, good to look at and friendly, without being coy, arrogant or foolish.

And yes, these are still lives, in the vein of everyone from 17th century Dutch painters and the polite traditions of Pieter Claesz and Willem van Aelst, to 20th century’s Giorgio Morandi: composition of things on shelves and cats on chairs, and skulls, that give you a sense of ancient tradition while they joust and jive with text and caterpillars, rubber ducks and toy soldiers, and interior space and bold colour.

Mashile first came to art lovers’ attention several years ago through David Krut’s gallery, where he earned his stripes making astonishingly fine lithographs that teetered between abstraction and surrealism. These works reflect a mature Mashile who allows his line and his eye to converse, convivially. And they’re works which resonate with economic, political and homely values. They’re not cheap, but are imminently haveable.

  • As We Are by Colbert Mashile is at Circa Gallery downstairs, Everard Read gallery complex, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until August 18. 011 788 4805.

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