Cape Times - 6 March 2001
FACING REALITY – Paintings by Natasja De Wet At the Chelsea Gallery Wynberg.
BENITA MUNITZ reviews.
"de Wet faces internal questions"
Man cannot stand too much reality, it’s been said. Its certainly not easy to confront raw unembellished truth – even in a painting.
Or maybe particularly in a painting. For as artist or viewer we face it as we do a mirror: It reflects a lot more than our image, it reflects our selves – our perceptions, our way of thinking, beliefs, fears, and a lot more.
Maybe that’s why many people prefer to look at paintings that present sanitised, prettified, and idealised versions of the real world.
No such escape in paintings by Natasja de Wet. Like it or not, she gives us the real thing – a sense of authentic experience as she attempts to “face” issues that disturb her.
De Wet’s artworks come across as intimate reflections of intense experience – journeys into depths most of us prefer not to plumb.
The artist’s “id” is always there with eternal questions – who am I, where am I, why am I here, what do I want, what do others want of me, who can I trust – and so on.
How do we read all this? Through De Wet’s remarkable ability to project herself on to Perspex, glass and canvas formats through very personal and often movingly expressive means.
The artist does not render her realities in realistic terms. In no way would this be sufficiently potent. Rather than creating illusions, De Wet expresses internal and external realities she needs to come to terms with.
Portraiture is her chosen conduit largely because of subtle – and not so subtle – nuances of facial expression.
Far from the flattering renderings of commissioned portrait painters, these are paintings that reach into the souls of the subjects.
Many are wildly distorted by contrasting hues, shadows that resemble bruising, body marks that look like initiation striations, and harsh white highlights.
Other more subtle signifiers include angled heads and indirect glances, scratching that scar surfaces, incoherent markings – and a tiny eye that peers through layers of Perspex. Such clues lead us further into pictorial depths.
Activated, it seems, by a sense of urgency, pigment is swept, brushed and scraped on to formats in ways that seem almost automatistic.
But while the process involves much over painting that clouds the transparency of glass and Perspex format, there is nothing spontaneous about the careful application of collage elements such as rusty metal hinges that have lost their function (become unhinged?).
Responses and interpretation of de Wet’s art are likely to differ since paintings suggest a great deal without overt explanation.
While psychological and symbolical aspects take you as deep as you’re inclined to go, the voluptuous application of viscous pigment holds you to the surface, creating a strong sense of physicality.
You’ll note the way the features emerge out of shadowy depths, disorientation patterns, and debris of different kinds.
And you may conclude that nothing can entirely obliterate the haunting experience.
For some viewers this may be a journey to places one is reluctant to revisit.
But while initially disturbing, these works are ultimately encouraging for they provide many life affirming clues.
For one thing, in contrast to dark clouds that continuously threaten to overcome the protagonist, faces are illuminated by a bright strong light that seems to emanate from an outside source – that is, the real-life world beyond frame limits.
The artist’s projection of her subjects towards the living dimension is surely a highly positive and assertive art-act.
The longer you linger the more you’ll find to contemplate.