Forget me not: The unquestionable relevance of painting


The display cabinet. 2020. 150 x 150 cm low res

THE display cabinet, oil on canvas, by Karin Preller.

AN ELDERLY WOMAN sits on an upholstered chair in a room awash with the harsh light of the South African highveld. Alongside her is a display cabinet, an element of furniture that was once fashionable. But the woman is diminishing. She is rendered in brush strokes which speak of vagueness. The cabinet looms gently, an architectural object that will not deteriorate with time, but maybe with its own sense of relevance. Under the brush of Karin Preller, the immensity of this reality is given monumentality. But this is a gentle monumentality, blurred by time and tears and memory.

Preller’s current exhibition of a body of 15 paintings moves at a great pace from previous showings of her work. There is a blurring of photographic detail recorded with her brush that takes the family snaps to a level of mature abstraction. Like Lucian Freud’s work, late in his life, the pieces do not beg slavish attention to detail but ride on the momentum of the painter’s conviction and self-knowledge, as they play with shadow and the suggestion of features that fit into a whole.

And while the basic intimate focus of her work is the same as it has been for many years – old family photographs – it is in this exhibition that Preller achieves a universality that reaches way beyond the personal. Two years ago, in Pretoria, her showing of work was overshadowed by profound sadness. Her previous show at Lizamore  & Associates in 2015 was an almost sinister contemplation of dolls that once held her attention.

In the several weeks since the start of this year, Preller has completed this respectable and immensely sophisticated body of work. They are quiet, as is her wont. They are sad and contemplative too. But they speak of your elderly mother, and your distant childhood as much as they do of hers.

There is a hint of Gerard Richter and a flicker of Francis Bacon in this rich and devastatingly subtle contemplation of not only photographs of loved ones, but the mystery of painting and the curious ritual of conveying a sense of three dimensionality from a two dimensional sheet of photo paper onto a two dimensional canvas. A universe in every nuance. It’s an astonishingly beautiful gem of a show.

  • Almost no memory by Karin Preller is on show at Lizamore & Associates, Shop 4, Chester Court, 142 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood Johannesburg, until 28 March 2020. Call 011 880 8802.

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