RUNNING TOWARDS YOURSELF is the product of artist Natasja de Wet's 18-month long, in-depth exploration into the fluidity, ambiguity and tensions at play in psychological constructions of personal and especially, gendered, identity. This series of portraits is also a response to the existentially reflexive conflict around where the Self is located during acts of looking. Where and what is the inner Self as it looks at the outside world? When it gazes inward? When it is passively the object of an Other’s gaze? And is it truly either wholly masculine or entirely feminine, all the time? De Wet probes these gender distinctions and questions their validity as accepted foundation stones of identity and ‘reality’, particularly as regards the workings of individual psyche.
Since 2006, when she first discovered Psychophonetics (a method of examining and using verbal sounds to enhance self-awareness and create deeper meaning), De Wet has been particularly interested in the notion that there resides in us all both an 'inner male' and an 'inner female': fundamental aspects of shared human psychology that are no less dynamic and influential for being discouraged, disavowed or outright taboo. Begun in late 2011, this series of portraits thematically continues De Wet's abiding idea that individual human experience is essentially a ‘journey’ or process which, whether undertaken mindfully or not, daily entails forging an emotional relationship and understanding with the Self – a process that rests on the uneasy reconciliation betweena multiplicity of “selves” (both male and female); interior and exterior realities; appearance and experience; what we are with others and on our own; how we are perceived by others and what and who we perceive others to be.
Without titles and depicting instantly recognisable common human emotions, Running Towards Yourself is an invitation into primal territory – that fluid “elsewhere” lurking just beyond conscious thought where individual identity and self-knowledge originate. De Wet's multi-faceted raw self-delvings create a “universal face” and destabilise accepted formulations around our understanding of what it is to be human – what it is to say “I”, “You” and “We”. By dint of their number and that of the emotional states they represent, these portraits suggest that any notion of one “constant” or “true” “self” is a myth. Narrow linguistic constraints (such as “male” and “female”, “good” and “bad”) constrain and curb true self-knowledge and ultimately, cauterise and impoverish our experience and understanding of self.
The evocative nature of the series is due in no small part to De Wet's use of colour to portray mood, emotion and her interior world. For her, each shade has personal rather than traditional significance and her selection process is intuitive: green represents mental calm, for example; purple and violet express sexuality, sadness and plumbing existential depths; red conveys warmth, pain and love; blue symbolises introspection and inner peace. Combined with her signature drip technique, strategic employment of blank canvas space and use of different applications of brushstroke, contrasts are bold and vibrant and compositions feature engaging tensions between dynamism and stasis, chaos and serenity, what is blatant and what is insinuated.
The result is a body of work layered with pathos and exuberance in equal measure. If there is disquieting vulnerability on view, so is there undiluted courage. Ultimately, to look at these portraits is also to be viewed by them. And in the exchange, there's a fleeting brush with a myriad selves and a disquieting reminder of human nature's astonishing complexity.
Review by Laura Twiggs - independent author, writer, editor.