02 . 02 . 17 – 25 . 02 . 17
SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Haunt – a solo exhibition of new paintings by Cape Town-based painter, Jake Aikman.
There is an interesting interplay between the titles of Aikman’s previous solo with SMAC and this one. At the Quiet Limit (presented in Cape Town in 2013) is taken from a phrase in Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Tithonus (1859), where the immortal Trojan Tithonus speaks to his lover Eos, goddess of the dawn, of his weariness with immortality “at the quiet limit of the world”. Viewed as a companion to Tennyson’s Ulysses (1833), the poem sees Tithonus exploring “the human acceptance of the inevitability, and even the appropriateness, of death as the end of the life cycle”. While Ulysses refused to accept death, Tithonus longs for the respite that comes with the finality of death.
The title of Aikman’s new exhibition denies Tithonus the very relief he so yearned for; Haunt suggests a liminality, a dwelling between one world and the next. This liminality manifests itself in Aikman’s paintings in a number of ways – it is in the absence of human figures, implying a spectral presence or a disembodied spectator; it reveals itself as the fabled line between heaven and earth, the horizon at which the elements of water and air meet and separate.
Atmospheric and meditative, the sheer painterly nature of each work is experienced – not simply seen – denying the viewer the temptation to over-intellectualise them and often rejecting tidy analysis. “I work with the human body in mind”, says Aikman.
Like a tidal cycle that swells and recedes, the audience is drawn in and out of the images, their vastness providing no obvious narrative. Aikman simultaneously creates tension and anticipation about what is about to happen or may have already taken place – is there a storm brewing over these turbulent waters, or are we witnessing the aftermath? Shrouded or obscured futures, the absence of human figures, the flickering of a distant light, the glimpse of distant shore; do they offer hope? Is it the last dying light? Aikman poses questions rather than defining a narrative.
Working intuitively with a limited colour palette, scale and repetition, Aikman produces work that captures the enigma and liminality of an isolated moment, arrested in time. His restricted palette broadens through a vast range of subtle shifts and variations in tone and hue, allowing the eye to drift slowly, uninterrupted, across the canvas – to meditate on the redemptive qualities of the artist’s viridescent spectrum.
From emerald to aquamarine, green is the dominant colour of this new body of work – symbolic of hope and rejuvenation. Although loaded with uncertainty, Aikman’s canvases also provide the viewer the opportunity to appreciate the raw beauty of nature, to relish in the sublimity of sea and sky.
In Haunt, Aikman’s characteristic large-scale seascapes are interspersed with works that see the painter navigating new territories through abstraction and texture. Like the surface tension of water, the canvas depicts a similarly fragile boundary. Aikman seeks to disrupt this boundary, literally axing it open and revealing what lies beyond in a series of abstract oil on wood works. He describes these works as a shift in focus from the landscape itself to the contents of that landscape, referencing the historical salvaging of such materials for human industry. “Land and sea have featured for a while”, he says, “but in using wood, I am able to directly reference the material of the land”.
Beyond the atavistic experiences of his action in physically creating the work, Aikman also references some of the earliest developments in technology. With the advent of tools that allowed advancement through previously un-traversed areas of wilderness, so came the ability to part the curtain previously drawn by an untamed landscape and witness what lay beyond; humankind encroached ever further into the unknown. Aikman’s paintings, rather than conveying a direct environmental message, pose further questions: “After centuries of exploration, what have we attained?”, “Where have we arrived?” and more than that, as a consequence, “What have we done (to the earth)?”
In Haunt, Aikman delves deeper into the basic existential questions often posed by explorative journeys into the unfamiliar, focusing more specifically on impermeable physical boundaries and the foreboding psychological apprehension that accompanies a confrontation with the unknown, rather than evangelical environmentalism or an intellectualised representation of such an experience. Aikman’s acknowledgement of the influence of contemporary painters such as Richter and Doig highlight an early interest in merging conceptual ideas with atmospheric and sensory images that both enchant and challenge.
In his vast and seductive seascapes, Aikman denies the viewer a foothold. There is no jetty or shoreline on which to anchor the gaze. Rather, the viewer is set adrift, borne unto the watery surface of a world governed by the elements, suspended in time and space. These places are non-specific, if not geographically indistinct. Yet, like flying inches above the water across a grey and murky ocean in a dream, there is a familiarity to them – we know and recognise them instinctively, even if we have never physically visited them.
Haunt is Jake Aikman’s fourth solo show with SMAC gallery and his first in Johannesburg. The exhibition will run until 25 February 2017.