Peter Eastman

Tangled Hierarchies

16 . 05. 19 – 15 . 06 . 19

Cape Town

SMAC Gallery is pleased to present Tangled Hierarchies, a solo exhibition of new works by Peter Eastman.

Peter Eastman’s fascination with a small stretch of forest near a family home inspired something of a breakthrough show in 2014’s Deep Chine, a series of hyperreal naturescapes that used texture and reflection to heighten viewer experience. With Tangled Hierarchies, Eastman widens the scope of his experiment, delving deeper into the valley and finding new and varied methods to express its magic.

The title of the show is taken from the last chapter of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Eastman’s main concern is with the book’s final chapter, entitled Strange loops, or Tangled Hierarchies, which deals with self-referential loops found across various disciplines.

These so-called ‘strange loops’ – used by Escher in his lithograph Drawing Hands to depict the paradoxical act of hands drawing one another into existence – drew Eastman to seek out evidence of similar patterns. By foraging his forest for twigs with particular curves or bends that symbolise and exemplify these loops, Eastman homes in on nature’s tendency to self-reference, and further how it cooperates and interacts with its surroundings. These repetitions harmonise with nature’s cyclical habit – and innumerable universal cycles of creation and closure.

To this end, Eastman’s ‘Enon riverbed’ paintings refer to the geological formation of enon conglomerate, the sediment formed as the ancient supercontinent Gondwanaland tore apart and the Falkland plateau drifted west. The fissures in the tears is where the enon conglomerate was created and occur at the site of Eastman’s forest.

These loops are further evidenced by Eastman’s process. The show features three smaller series’ within the final collection, with each drawing inspiration from, and thus reflecting, the others.

Tangled Hierarchies is Eastman’s second series of work drawn from this steep, forested valley near the Crags on South Africa’s east coast. Focusing heightened attention on the same area allows Eastman to find and express the constant flux and renewal of our surroundings. No scene, he says, is ever the same twice. Everything is always new.

“It’s a very limited space, this particular bit of river about 100 metres long. This is where all of the work is drawn from. I walk up and down in this area and, bizarrely, I can feel when I step out of it. Somehow, I cross this imaginary threshold the scene becomes boring.”

New techniques are on show this time, notably Eastman’s use of the camera. By using longer exposures and moving the camera while capturing a frame, he found that the effect was like a dragged brushstroke once transported to the painting surface. Noticing an image with a natural blur from a longer exposure, Eastman resolved to explore further. The blurring became deliberate.

In this sense, the camera acts as a brush, as do his foraged sticks, which Eastman employs as instruments to draw into the paint. As he draws, broken pieces fall to the surface and settle like twigs on a riverbed.

Eastman’s scenes are thus and otherwise gently abstracted as he plays with distortion, reflection and, marking his greatest departure, the addition of ironwood branches adhered to his surfaces with a thick texture paste. Now as then he uses glossy enamel paint to create reflective surfaces that deliver flashes of light, much like electric impulses in a wet forest. Layers of varnish enhance the effect while adding depth to the dark paint and adding to the radiance of the lighter tones. The resulting reflections are themselves self-referential loops.

This collection continues Eastman’s affinity with enamel paint. “It’s such a beautiful medium because these paintings become so alive. Often, when one has to photograph the paintings you can lose this potential. The image appears like a static object, but it’s not an object, it’s a living thing.”

His chief reason for choosing aluminium over canvas is the latter’s inertness. “Because you’re not given anything. With aluminium, every mark that you put down is your own. You can’t get the same detail with canvas, which has a rough texture.”

The result is an immersive, often mesmerising experience. “You become immersed in a similar way, hopefully, to how I lose myself in the forest. You will see yourself reflected in an ever-changing and ephemeral image. As with in a small, limited space within a forest, one’s slightest movement can change the scene entirely.”

Along with the near-literal naturescapes and the stick works that they inspired, there are four abstract paintings of isolated lines reflecting the shapes of branches drawn elsewhere in the show. The sticks used to create the lines are shaped like the lines themselves. The sticks are the lines themselves, creating yet another of Eastman’s many strange loops.

– Matthew Freemantle

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