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Deborah Poynton: Proverb

Deborah Poynton: Proverb - Omenka Online

From 20 March – 30 April 2021, Stevenson Johannesburg will present Proverb, an exhibition of new paintings by Deborah Poynton. This is Poynton’s 12th solo show with Stevenson and her first in the gallery’s Parktown space.

The subjects of Proverb’s nine large and three smaller canvases encompass animals in pastoral and urban landscapes, domestic scenes, still life, and human figures familiar from Poynton’s oeuvre. She writes of the group and its title:

Terse, humorous, metaphorical, a proverb delivers truth with a light slap of recognition, an admonishment to do better next time.

These paintings seem to me imbued with a kind of droll fatalism. The lesson not-quite-learned is on the tip of my tongue. The animals regard us quizzically from a mossy slope, or dog basket, or lush field, not caring to share what they know.

A proverb is not attached to a real-life place or time. Like a well-worn joke, it hovers and gets passed along, a thing unto itself. It’s like a series of moves, a code.

A painting is so often attached, like scar tissue, to a grudge, or an idealism, or a hope, or even, like a photograph, to a moment in time. A painting is so often attached by apron strings to its maker.

My wish is to cut a painting free, let it drift along in its own series of moves, let it have its own code.

If a painting lends itself to freedom, perhaps its truth can be recognised like the punchline of a joke, with a kind of chastened pleasure. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, seeing is believing, and we should make hay while the sun shines.

Rendered in Poynton’s intensely detailed realism, contrasted with areas of white canvas, the paintings are light and playful in their construction, with tilted picture planes, skies reflected in water. They are also profound in pointing to the dense accumulations of brushstrokes that make up their surfaces as, in the artist’s words, ‘an attempt to control the uncontrollable, to make a space in which to have a bit of purchase on the endlessly slipping, slipping world’.

Karlijn de Jong, the curator of Poynton’s upcoming survey, observes in her catalogue essay that Poynton ‘is interested in the 17th-century concept of “invention”, with artists intensely studying nature, anatomy, geometry, optics and light to create fictional landscapes that feel more real than a rendering of an actual site. Poynton, too, does not paint factual situations or actual landscapes. She sees invention as an abstraction of reality, a way to see the world as if it were real. Although reality cannot be preserved, invention is framed reality. According to Poynton, it is a safe place for the imagination.’

The exhibition will be on view at the gallery and presented in an online viewing room with audio commentary on each work by the artist.


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