In a somewhat questionable marketing endeavour, the Eastern Cape Region has been sign posted, ‘Frontier Country’ and indeed this is what it is. Historically it is the site of the 9 Frontier Wars and much brutal conflict and living here presently can still seem the edge of nowhere by comparison to many major South African metropols. With Grahamstown at the heart of it, it is also a cosmopolitan space not without vestiges of past pain but - like many colonial outposts in a post-colonial time - it is no longer a satellite to an absent motherland, a mere microcosm of elsewhere, but also a world unto itself.

A potential space of intellectual, debate rather than military conflict – geographically isolated from metropolitan trends – a melting pot of many places, a crucible. In more recent history, this frontier space has been a site of culture, of experiment. Home to an annual arts festival, how is it that Grahamstown with a population of just under 140 000 can command so much creative imagination in novels, plays, poetry and art? Frontier, Border, at the end of the world but not about to fall off – merely at a vantage point to observe a view to come.
- Rat Western

DISCHARGE 2012             COLOUR COLLOQUIUM 2010             SYNTHETIC DIRT 2011

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

“In a sea of possibilities”: the work of new colourists Georgina Gratrix and Michael Taylor by Michael Smith

In Patti Smith’s epic 1975 track “Land” the word ‘possibilities’ recurs numerous times at the song’s culminating verse. Smith’s lyrical style in this track, one of free association, with one sound and idea building on and expanding the previous, is perhaps a useful metaphor for colour’s function in visual art.

Colour’s associative promiscuity and suggestibility help it lend art a value beyond simple, empirical reportage or social mirroring. In apartheid South Africa, where the system functioned to shut down so much possibility, rendering various forms of image-making (and thereby thought) undesirable, ill-advised or downright illegal, colour remained transgressive in its suggestion of conceptual and emotional multiplicity. In post-apartheid art, blighted for the bulk of the post-liberation period by arguably conservative delineations of identity, painting in colour seems to hold possibilities for expression that sidesteps the predictable and the coagulating.

This paper will consider that colour never left us, and that despite various forms of agit-prop-style art and the moral binarisms their monochrome palettes expressed, there remained at the heart of SA art production artists like Robert Hodgins who used colour as expressive of more nuanced moral and political positions. I will argue that Hodgins’ work presented positions along the spectrum between good and evil, and between moral outrage and morally bankruptcy.

I will then explore the work of two young painters, Georgina Gratrix and Michael Taylor, placing them within a lineage established in SA by Hodgins, and considering how their work taps into certain notions of fluid subjectivity and mobile positioning, which extend the possibilities of SA art beyond the confining impulse towards marking out territories of identity.

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