JOHANN LOUW

FNB Art Joburg | SOLO Section: Booth G2

13.09.19 – 15.09.19

Sandton Convention Centre
Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Afrikaans word ‘tafereel’ signifies a picture, or more broadly speaking, a representation of a scene or a situation. This scene might suggest or represent a story.

Etymologically, ‘tafereel’ shares with the French word ‘tableau’ the stem ‘tablel’, which comes from the latin ‘ tablella’, the diminutive of ‘tabula’ – which quite literally means a plank – which in the Middle Ages was often painted on, and also then came to denote a painting on panel or tablet.

Quite literally then, within ‘TAFEREEL’, a scene is presented, a story is suggested, a moment with many elements is frozen as if from a film. Within this scene a story might be unfolding, and within the scenes within this scene, yet more moments hover on the brink of either disenclosing more, or, alternatively, lapsing into silence; a tabula rasa, where stories and events and meaning are bleached from the surfaces on which they are painted or the material in which they are cast, and only dust hangs around them in quiet, breathless air.

Within such a context where the symptoms of sorrow and the ritual of supplication are predominant, Louw’s work begs  an important question: how can eternal rest be achieved, and is it possible at all? What do we call those places where sorrow resides, and how do we represent them?

For in his largescale paintings, we see humans confronting the beasts of their own sorrow – be it a giant squid floating in a glass tank or a beached whale stranded on a shore. Staring at these creatures from the deep, the human figures that Louw paints seem to be at once mesmerised by the sight of these fantastical beasts, but also overcome by their magnitude and the strangeness
of their lifeless bodies. These creatures dominate the pictorial space, and their fleshiness – the pink and white and grey of their bodies – offers a striking counterpoint to the enraptured human spectators who gaze at them.

It is exactly at this intersection between life and death, presence and absence, that Louw’s work dwells. For in many ways, Louw is dealing with a theme that spans much of his work, which is the form and texture of the body in times of weakness and loss – the corporeal remnants, so to speak. But these are bodily forms bereft of some essential vitality, which leaves the viewer with the aftermath of life. In the context of his current work, the creatures that he paints – suspended between the states of animism and decay – remind us
of the vulnerability of existence, and our profound longing to capture and understand the fleeting qualities of life.