John-Michael Metelerkamp-Bessie and Query

Bessie and Query

John-Michael Metelerkamp-Florence and White Leghorns

Florence and White Leghorns

John-Michael Metelerkamp

Bessie in Chair

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Edition Size 1
Medium Oil on canvas
Height 50.00 cm
Width 50.00 cm
Artist John-Michael Metelerkamp

In this series Province, the artist creates autoethnographic work.

The artist hails from George and only recently relocated to Cape Town. His family is also from the same area and in this exhibition Metelerkamp looks at photographs of his family’s colonial past.

Ashraf Jamal writes:

Metelerkamp makes no judgement on the past. Instead, he situates the viewer within a story which is as much about racial division and inequality as it is not. If the photographs are ethnographic records, then perhaps Metelerkamp’s take is autoethnographic, an intimate re-imagining of a historical record?

 

Ashraf Jamal writes:

‘Province’ is Metelerkamp’s painterly reinvention of photographs of his family’s colonial past. Unlike the paintings in his ‘Garden Route’ series – many of which are painted in George’s ‘onderdorp’ where the artist lives – ‘Province’ is a re-imagining of a past world. We typically assume photographs to be factual records, we forget that photographs too are framed, that they leave out far more than they can ever include. All the leading analysts of photography – amongst them Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, John Berger, and Sally Mann – remind us, however, that a photograph is an abduction, literally a ‘take’ on the world. That we persist in believing in their oracular power has everything to do with a need for constancy, a belief in a surface reality no matter how deceptive. That Metelerkamp has chosen to paint from these stills – animate them as it were, engender some new life, a different energy field, through paint – surely reminds us that no world is inviolate, that everything can be transformed.

Tonally, the painting in the ‘Province’ series are not as dark as those captured in ‘Garden Route’. Is this perhaps because they stem from desaturated black and white or sepia photographs? As the photographer Anders Petersen surmises, black and white photography is most colourful because ‘you can use your experiences, your knowledge, and your fantasy to put colours into black and white’. Is this what Metelerkamp is doing? Peopled, rural and rustic, his ‘Province’ series reveal the habitat and culture of colonial life. Commentary is implicit and impossible to ignore. And yet, Metelerkamp makes no judgement on the past. Instead, he situates the viewer within a story which is as much about racial division and inequality as it is not. If the photographs are ethnographic records, then perhaps Metelerkamp’s take is autoethnographic, an intimate re-imagining of a historical record? The degree to which they are mere ciphers of a past, and the degree to which they are new scriptings through paint is the rub. My view is that the artist does not defer but infers, after Petersen he uses his personal ‘experience … knowledge … fantasy’ to relive and enliven an ancestral familial realm. However, once the photographs have been morphed through paint, they disperse their presumptive objectivity. Now we find ourselves coexisting with the past, shifted from monochromatic and sepia memories into richly textured re-worldings or re-imaginings of that past.

In Metelerkamp’s case, the past is never another country. Through paint he returns, and in the returning, reawakens. While the physical image of a family member or indentured labourer is apparent, they emerge as daubs of colour, as colour fields. A grassland, stoep, or horse stable, and those who occupy these scenes, are as tenuously depicted as they are dense. One imbibes a world as real as it is abstracted. Paint, once again, becomes the threshold between the past and present, this world, the one we occupy as mortals, and another, which is the sum of dream.

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