Holy tales in clay that give life


BOLD faces: A detail from a work by Charmaine Haines. Photograph by Kim Sacks Gallery.

SACREDNESS IN AN object comes in many iterations, many of which can be completely unexpected. When you visit Charmaine Haines’s exhibition at the Kim Sacks Gallery, you will be accosted with a sense of the sacred that is joyful and full of levity, bold and clear, but unequivocally very untraditional and completely special.

It’s an extraordinarily populous show: you count 60 works in the section of the gallery space dedicated to her work, but then as you look and turn, as you cast at eye at shelves and displays tangential to the show itself, you notice a blurring of boundaries, a bleeding of values between other items on display in this treasure trove of a space. And she’s everywhere, bringing life to a wooden ox that you may not have noticed before, or a Kenyan piece of fabric.

Haines’s work touches on Picasso-evocative pared down faces in profile, conjoined with others, as it reaches in a more painterly direction to an approach which may evoke drawings by Norman Catherine, Deborah Bell or William Kentridge, but either way, the approach remains distinct and gorgeous. There’s an understanding of the frisson of magic that a bird or an evocation of a bird — or a fish — for that matter, lends a space or a face. It’s something that may make you think of the mysticism and fierceness of the paintings of Marc Chagall as it may evoke passage’s from Stravinsky’s Firebird in your mind’s ear.

The ceramicist plays with storytelling but she also indulges in a fascination with marks made and lines drawn. There are cast tiles on this exhibition which feel like works on canvas, until you get to be seduced by the hard clear swathes of colour invested. It’s like she has worked with egg tempera and stitched parts of her images together, but no: as you look closer, you realise that the artist works with small lines and big spaces in a way that shifts your equilibrium, deliciously.

And when it comes to the idea of the sacred, you turn to the larger vessels made by Haines. They’re not strictly functional in the pedestrian sense of a jug or an urn, but hold the presence of the woman whose abstracted face is depicted, be it in peacock blue or a depth of white that you feel you could absorb into your soul.

So, while there are objects here that could be internalised into your kitchen, by way of plates and pragmatic vessels, the exhibition is a consolidated one in which you get to instinctively understand why vessels can hold more than just food or drink.

  • Finding the Narrative by Charmaine Haines is at The Kim Sacks Gallery, Rosebank, Johannesburg, until October 27. 011 447 5804.

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