Scratching the Surface

Art Notes - The Good Life in The Mercury ~ March 26 2009
~ Marianne Meijer

FIVE respected Durban artists show their latest works at the KlZO Gallery at Gateway in an exhibition titled Scratching the Surface which will be opened at 6pm today.

It's strange that these artists are respected by Durban art-lovers, and that many collectors buy their work, yet they are not represented in nationally important public collections, or national galleries or museums. 'To get there, they perhaps have to extend themselves to go beyond scratching the surface.

The artists are Lara Mellon, Magwood-Fraser, Maggie Strachan, Joan Martin, Lesley Magwood-Fraser and Rene Leslie. Their works are creative, well painted. Their subject matter is a question of particular taste the content well thought-out and the composition truly considered.

All share a passion for landscape and the inhabitants of KwaZulu-Natal and all have a penchant for expressive mark-making (scratching) and, in particular, the traditional medium of drawing, which is what initially drew them together.

Strachan and Mellon work closely together: Strachan, a former art teacher, now paints and conducts adult oil painting classes from her studio in Durban. Over the past decade she has co-facilitated dream/painting workshops at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo, together with Estelle Hudson, a Jungian therapist.

Strachan, who likes working with a group, gained international experience last year by exhibiting with Mellon in London. The contents of her paintings have been inspired by the mystery and diversity of her "environment -grasslands, coasts, skies, forests, cliff faces and ravines. "Drawings and mixed-media images evolve in a different way from my paintings," she says. "For me, drawing is a form of meditation. It is focussed and immediate, especially when it comes to smaller works. Oil paint and, to some extent, charcoal, can be reworked -reconsidered." Mellon's current work is very conceptual and the viewer is required: to look beyond the surface and the obvious. She presently experiences SA “as a kind of "ordered disorder".

Magwood-Fraser; who lived in Durban for 28 years, is fascinated by people working in the public eye. She's passionate about the flora of KZN -in particular aloes against winter skies - and is also fascinated by the protea.

Martin holds several fine-art degrees and teaches art at Durban Girls' College. She's been appointed as National Portfolio Moderator for Visual Arts, until 2011. She is a woman who keeps extending her knowledge. She uses art to find perspective in life, and her art-making is inspired by conversations with people she meets. Since teaching occupies a lot of her time it is no surprise that much of her subject matter and exploration of media is fed by the research and experiences she has when on a quest to inspire her students.

Her subject matter in the past five years has focused on trees photographed in Durban.. These trees have been populated by bits of jewellery; her pets, animals, birds, people and "quotations" of other artists' work -in particular Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait.

As for the art of Leslie, she says she was moved, during an early visit to Shongweni, by the power and grace of the horses. She was inspired by the restrained energy; milling horses and men, the formation of patterns and groups, legs and tails and flanks. "There was this incredible energy and something so immensely primitive and ancient about the relationship binding horse and man. "It was a natural progression then to move on to man and horse, and their long interactive history; of which I'm just scratching the surface."