Strange Enchantments

11 February – 15 March 2009

Strange Enchantments was a term used by Emeritus Professor and artist Bruce Arnott to describe the art of French born Claude Bouscharain in a monographic study of the artist published in 1976, referencing in particular the elusive and mystical imagery that characterise Bouscharain’s oeuvre. The metaphysical quality of her work is born from a continuous urge to explore the essential and imagined inner life of ordinary, familiar objects and fascinating subjects when represented out of their explanatory context; their solidity, symbolic value, separateness in the space allotted to them and the secret dialogue that may take place between them.

Since her arrival in Cape Town in 1951, Claude Bouscharain maintained a responsive participation in the Cape Town art scene by taking part in various organised group exhibitions and salons. Her first, fully-fledged solo exhibition in South Africa was held in 1966 at the Artist’s Gallery in Cape Town, for which she received much critical acclaim. Since then, Bouscharain has presented several solo exhibitions and taken part in numerous group exhibitions throughout the country and abroad. Over the years, Claude Bouscharain earned a standing reputation and gained recognition for her compelling and enigmatic compositions of bold, simplified forms and figurative elements, casually juxtaposed in bright colours to present a surreal and visionary world.

The exhibition, Strange Enchantments, brings together a selection of paintings from 1948 to 2005, exploring Bouscharain’s use of esoteric symbolism in her dream-like expressions. Her inspiration always depended on subjects that captivated her imagination, evoking a visual sensation and emotional involvement that allowed her to interrogate and dissect the “strangeness of reality”.

The exhibition incorporates works from different periods. These include early works produced whilst she studied at the Art Students’ League in New York and at the Academie Montmarte in Paris under the tutelage of Fernand Leger (1948 – 1952); the Lyrical oil paintings (1952 – 1966); followed by Epic Style paintings (1966 – c.1981) executed in vibrant, smoothly applied acrylics for which the artist is probably best known. Her later work (1982 – 2005) marks a change to a looser approach, as well as a return to the use of oils. Here the aura of peculiarity and the use of ambiguous and unrelated objects are still observable in a far more painterly manner. 

Claude Bouscharain’s art remains impressive for sheer originality and poetic essence. As an artist she contributed unusual and excitingly different perspectives to the artistic heritage of South Africa.