Thursday, September 03, 2015

The Joy of Narration

“When I finish a work and I know it’s good,
that’s when I get an incredible sense of accomplishment and joy.
It might sound corny but it’s truly a brilliant feeling.
This can work in reverse which is fairly upsetting.”
Chris Denovan

For the South African figurative artist Chris Denovan the making of art is best equated with the religious experience.  In an interview with the State of the Art gallery he paraphrased the German artist Gerhard Richter stating “Religion and art are alike; you only know faith if you have lost it like you only know art if you have lost it too.”

After studying fine art at Cape Town’s Ruth Prowse School of Art for three years Denovan became disillusioned with painting and turned his hand to animation but a traumatic personal event saw him return to his roots.

As he explains in his artist’s statement “At art school I wasn’t very honest with myself – how can you make art if you’re not interested in looking in the one place it lives; you! Having left art school I was disillusioned and felt lost in the art world. I turned my back on painting and tried to move forward to something else. So I studied and worked in animation. This semi worked for five years, and while I didn’t touch a brush to canvas, I did start to learn more about me. Then one day someone very close to me died and life did a somersault which resulted in me picking up a brush once more. Painting again never felt so right. I resigned from my job as an animator, made an art studio for myself and started to create art again.”

Denovan graduated from art school with a body of work that focused on portraiture depicting prejudice and discrimination in gender and ethnicity and it is a subject that continues to hold his attention.

As he says “I really enjoying watching the growth of South Africa’s urban black art and social realism. Contemporary art emerging from South Africa is exciting in its breadth and expression. Any creative works to come from a nation with such a unique and varied history deserves unrestrained attention.

And it is an expression in which he has a voice.

As he says about his painting Red Signal II (see above) “Right now I’m hugely inspired by images that are sexy and strange at the same time. I’m fascinated by body parts crammed together, beautiful faces, muscle sinews stretching, images that give me an odd feeling, claustrophobic images of many people climbing up each other. I’m attracted to imagery of people wrestling or tangled up like dancing angrily together in a crowd. Maybe it’s a metaphor for what’s happening all around us; we’re people who always want more and want better and we struggle and push with our hot hands till we get it and we’re happy again.”

A voice that strains to tell a story, for as he has said “I would like to say that that is not important, that making art for yourself is that prime objective but I do have a primal desire to enthrall the viewer and I do think art is a need to communicate, a need to put down images that tell a story.”

Denovan’s current exhibition Obsessed with Ourselves is on show at Cape Town’s Sate of the Art gallery until the 19th of September. 

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