CARTOONS, YOU THINK, as you begin to look at the body of work by Theresa-Anne Mackintosh currently on show at Galleri Kalashnikovv. But you put that thought to bed rapidly, when you look properly: When you’re standing in front of a work that plays with your expectations as it offers you void in the place of shallowness. As is her wont, while she paints in a cartoon rubric, Mackintosh slips in an undercurrent of ennui and sinisterness that mingles with what a cartoon’s presence may mean to us, in a contemporary society. And the result: riveting and unsettling at the same time.
There’s something here which makes you think of a line in Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s great classic Le Petit Prince, where the grownups look at a drawing of a boa constrictor eating an elephant from the outside and giggle, “Why, that’s a hat”. These are scary works in the guise of something that bears an aftertaste of ‘sweet’.
These works, grouped under the exhibition title I Can Hear a Lull, challenge your sense of self in the world, pushing all that Mackintosh has been angling at for the last several years in her paintings. They’re rendered with a strong, self-correcting graphic hand and an almost malicious playfulness that pulls your comforts from under your feet, just when you think you’re confident in knowing what you’re looking at. And yet, there’s an overall presence that feels exploratory rather than facetious, curious rather than sensationalist.
The paintings skirt and flirt with the principles of Pop Art and abstraction as they do not shy from being sexually provocative or breaking rules of conventional satisfying lines. There is a discord in these pieces that pulls you in, but leaves you quiet. There’s a character who smiles with her mouth (her eyes are out of joint), there’s a portrait of a snow man, his gaze vague.
A couple clutch one another, holding tight to a sense of otherness, but their demeanour is shell-like in a world rattled with fear. Mackintosh uses colour with a raw gutsiness that doesn’t allow you to look at them sideways: they grab you with both eyes, head on. Her line work is fierce and like the aesthetic of British artist Graham Sutherland (1903-1980), it is uncompromising and redefining. Subtlety is enmeshed in her thinking and the works hit you in the solar plexus unapologetically.
This is Mackintosh’s first solo exhibition at Galleri Kalashnikovv and given the success of Craig Smith’s exhibition before it, affirms a strong aesthetic strand that is brave and convincing in reflecting on a criss-crossing of abstraction and discursiveness, of ‘what ifs?’ and bold allusions. If the idea of art made in South Africa is important to you, you need to know what Mackintosh is doing. And what rules she’s breaking.
- I Can Hear a Lull by Theresa-Anne Mackintosh is at Galleri Kalashnikovv, 70 Juta Avenue, Braamfontein, until April 24. Call 065 021 2119.