Understory: Exhibition Opening

The opening on Tuesday was a wonderful celebration.

We are very grateful to all those who joined us for a great evening, with special mention of Jenny Stretton who opened our exhibition. 

Below is the transcript from Jenny's opening address:   And you can click here to see more photos from the opening evening.

KZNSA 26th August 2014


Why do people paint fantasy – possibly because realist symbolism cannot carry the complex ideas the artist wants to express.

The painter creates another world by breaking a convention and, depending on the skill of the artist persuades the viewer to suspend disbelief and enter that world. Both of these artists are travellers in such worlds.

In Understory we descend to a level below consciousness, below the physical and below logic. The artists have used botanical shapes as the ladder for their descent: a curvaceous, organic, root-like link brings the viewer down from the canopy to their world. There is a sense that we are not viewing abstracted forms in the real world but rather real forms in an abstracted world – an exhibition that Alice may have curated. But the work is more serious than that with both artists narrating internal journeys that paradoxically have their roots above ground in the hustle and bustle of everyday life: it’s as if they descend to process and express the tensions in modern society.

This is not a collaboration, from the start one can see strong individual traits emerging : Mellon’s work uses connective elements such as string, strands, plumes of colour to link elements together. The filaments are reminiscent of nerve cells in some case, sewing thread in others, and in the case of the bolder columns of colour  –  they remind one of waterspouts or lava flows. These works speak of a need to connect with others, other people, other ideas, other worlds. The use of the circular format in which to place the compositions sets up a tension between the contained, insular, lonely ,internal world and the greater dangerous and infinite outer world.  Where characters are portrayed they are anonymous profiles or in the case of the work titled Grace set against the light giving the figure an ethereal sense. There is a very real sense of isolation , a poignant solitary quality that goes to the core of human existence – we are alone.

Martin’s work could be described as a series of coiled springs: energy is bound up in her figures suggesting potential, human capacity, and restraint. The parallels between the cat positions and the human figures seem to point to a dissolving of the borders between the two species and therefore a more than biological connection. Martin imbues the cats with human personality and vice versa. This is an interesting setup: collapsing the boundaries means a loss of ownership but also a freedom from owning the guilt that goes with the pride in one’s own breed. Martin plays further with this theme in the Vasco de Gama clock setting herself within the construction, contained like a bird in a gilded cage – such is the trap of colonialism. ... and the clock ticks on. Like Mellon she also uses trees to tell stories but in a different way: her trees are fantastical and invite discovery, the viewer would not be surprised to find raiders from... War of the Worlds climbing from limb to limb.  Like Mellon, Martin also uses a circular format in some of the works but these serve a different purpose – parking or ring-fencing difficult or unpleasant topics in bowls that are in essence little holding tanks or jails.

So both artists deal with the Understory in ways that are connected but different.  In the postcard series one is reminded of the distance that separates all individuals  – the metaphor made all the more potent by the apparent lightness of the exchanges. The obvious affection the artists have for one another bleeds into the work as they pass parts of their lives back and forth. One obviously recalls  84 Charing Cross Rd , a transatlantic  correspondence set in post-war England in which two characters become firm friends over a twenty year period of letter writing. Here however the Mellon/Martin exchange revolves around work, it was the genesis of the exhibition, the idea of forging a common piece of work albeit in two halves.  These postcards chronicle the process – how  their inevitably separate contributions were brought together. Herein lies the truth of this exhibition, its tension and its power. 


I’m very happy to open this exhibition.