The Sanlam Portrait Award 2017 TOP 40 exhibition has officially started its nationwide tour at the university of Johannesburg Art Gallery in February 2018. Initiated in 2013 by Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, Cape Town, the Sanlam Portrait Award, now in its third iteration, has become firmly established as an attractive biennial competition on par with the many art competitions open to South African artists.
Portraits that engage the viewer intellectually and emotionally, are what make this practice still relevant and exciting today.
Anina Deetlefs and Ydi Coetsee, two of the artists that entered the 2017 competition, both share different takes on this traditional genre – Deetlefs via her soft collage-like rendering of skin, peeling away the layers to reveal our humanity, and Coetsee by exploring the potential of interiors as a nostalgic composite of portraiture and still life.
Anina Deetlefs has found her niche in large- scale portrait studies which she approaches with meticulous detail and a delicate sensitivity – an approach which earned her a merited Top 100 spot in the Sanlam Portrait Award 2017 competition. Deetlef’s new body of work, etitled “SKIN”, revolves around the concept of layers and is a continuation of the theme which she explored in her competition entry.
Deetlefs delves into the complex dichotomy of skin, regarding it as a shell – both internally and externally. It is the barrier protecting the true individual, yet leaving him/her bare to scrutiny by others. Only by peeling away the various layers will one meet the soul that resides within.
The mixed media technique Deetlefs applies to the canvas strongly contributes to the idea of the individual as multi layered, not only in a physical sense, but in a mental and spiritual capacity as well. Certain areas are left completely bare except for a couple of lightly drawn lines on an unpainted canvas, while other areas consist of layers of thinly applied oil, creating a literal equivalent to the metaphorical transparency Deetlefs reflects on in her subject matter.
Ydi Coetsee showed a knack for creating an emotionally charged portrait with just the right balance of vulnerability, technique and narrative in her Sanlam Portrait Award 2017 entry. It is the daring emotional impact of the work coupled with Coetsee’s hauntingly nostalgic application of thinly layered paint that earned her a place in the coveted Top 40.
Coetsee continues to delve into these emotive qualities in her upcoming exhibition at Rust-en-Vrede Gallery. “Bly
Stay” is a nostalgic and pensive take on interior painting. Coetsee believes that interiors have the potential of being both still lives and “portraits”, relying on objects to accentuate a person, an encounter or a narrative moment.
Rooms, passages, halls and the objects inside them speak to the viewer because they are ordinary and recognisable. Yet these familiar interior objects also have the ability to alienate the viewer, underlying their “otherness” in indeterminate ways. In some of the works the interiors are empty and long for companionship, urging the viewer to “stay” and reflect, whilst in others the interior summons the viewer to an already cheerful space. The tension in these images – between hospitality and hostility – is a theme Coetsee is only starting to explore, but that she hopes will stir something in the viewer’s own memories, acting as catharsis and compelling them towards self-reflection.
Ydi Coetsee’s Sanlam Portrait Award entry can be seen alongside the other 39 selected portraits during the nationwide tour at the following venues:
University of Johannesburg Art Gallery from 8 February to 7 March
Kwazulu Natal Society of Arts Gallery, Bulwer, Durban from 11 to 29 April
GFI Gallery, Port Elizabeth from May to June 2018 (exact dates TBC)
Centenary Gallery, Free State Festival, UFS, Bloemfontein from 8 to 27 July
Knysna Fine Arts, Knysna, August 2018 (exact dates TBC)
George Museum, George, September 2018 (exact dates TBC)