Sad paintings that say so much


WINDY beach: Chris and Karin, Scottburgh, 1960s. A painting by Karin Preller. Photograph courtesy Pretoria Arts Association.

A SUBURBAN VERANDAH IN Johannesburg in the 1960s. The chairs are of a circular wire design, with criss-cross patterns on the seats, the table top, fashionable at the time. The space is harsh, defined by the Highveld light. The furniture stands without occupants. Waiting. The narrative that this still life embraces is rich with undefined sadness, but it’s one that you can’t stop looking at and thinking about. This is one of the paintings on show at the moment in Karin Preller’s latest exhibition Stilled Lives 2.

And while you may have seen some of these paintings, primarily in monotone, in other galleries before, it is this sampling of 16 works that offers a tightly-focused cipher into the potency of what Preller is doing, as a painter. As a painter who works within and challenges the core thinking of the traditional genre of the still life.

She does work with three dimensional objects, but like American still life artist Audrey Flack, she also engages the complex materiality of the objects which are old family photographs. In this way, she gives voice to the evolved meaning of the still life, the nature morte, the genre that contemplates mortality.

But there are no object tricks and jokes in Preller’s work. There are no skulls and wilting flowers. No mirrors or tubes of lipstick, as is the wont of Flack. Preller never allows you to forget that every single object she has chosen to paint is invested with soul, with energy, with history, as it must be. But its energy, soul and history that you do not need to investigate. Her brush marks and line work are not slavishly true to what she sees. These are paintings and never pretend to be the ‘real thing’.

And this is their unequivocal potency. In Stilled Lives 2, Preller shows you realities from her personal life which are not unpicked and hyper-analysed. They don’t need to be. You do not need to know who these people are or the context of their lives beyond the title of each that she offers you.

What you go away with, however, is a potent sense of complicated sadness. The work is devastatingly fine. It’s also overwhelmingly brave.  Preller remains one of the more understated, but most significant contemporary South African artists. Her dogged focus on continuing to developing her visual voice at her own pace and with her established visual grammar, shines like a beacon in this age where big elbows and loud voices earns the most attention.

  • Stilled Lives 2 by Karin Preller is in the North Gallery, Pretoria Arts Association in Bailey’s Muckleneuk Pretoria, until October 10. Call 012 346 3100.



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