ANDRÉ NAUDÉ The Viewing Room Art Gallery at St Lorient: ‘Beige’
By Karin Preller
In what is undoubtedly one of the most disruptive and disturbing years in recent history, paying havoc with peoples’ lives, dreams and aspirations, André Naudé presents an exquisite body of paintings in an exhibition which he titles, simply and unceremoniously: ‘Beige’.
The title provides the perfect starting point to write about an artist that understands colour and form like few other artists: rightfully acknowledged as one of South Africa’s foremost colourists. But more than this, the title is immediately evocative of the playfulness, wry sense of humour and dark irony that permeate Naudé’s work, and life, in various ways. Not an artist that lets himself be dictated to by whim or the capriciousness of the artworld, Naudé’s visual language is uniquely and unmistakably his own. “Cantankerous”, Naudé describes himself when we speak, and I smile. Conversations with Naudé are never dull, always inflected with humour, and always contextualised by his immense knowledge and love of art.
Naudé’s prolific career, and his involvement with all aspects of the art world – as lecturer, teacher, curator, adjudicator, but primarily as artist – spans more than four decades from the mid-1970s to date. This exhibition, as was his mid-career retrospective at the Pretoria Art Museum in 2001, is again reflective of salient aspects of his work, drawing together, but also taking further, the rich diversity of his processes of making in eminently seductive works that speak not only of colour but of a consummate understanding of paint, line, form, composition, of sheer immersion in his work as a whole.
Art critic Lucia Burger, in the first line of her opening speech for one of Naudé’s many solo exhibitions, stated unequivocally: “Andre Naudé is a flirt”. I quote her because it is essentially Naudé’s love affair with paint that shines through in all of his work over his illustrious career. His flirtation with paint, with medium and material, is perhaps most viscerally discernible in his distinctive use of colour. It is reflective of a special knowledge of how colours will mix; how they will look, interact with, recede, and advance on the surface of the canvas. The same entrancement that holds the viewer’s attention is also the artist’s entrancement and enchantment with paint. As I write this, I recall the different spaces in which I have encountered Andre’s work. I conjure up, ‘tangibly’ almost, the colour of certain works that drew me to the work. Whether in variations of solid or evanescent blues and yellows, in ominous reds and black, it is Naudé’s colour that resonates as one of the most tantalizing and enigmatic elements of his work.
Ultimately, Naudé’s manipulation of his medium and material enables a world at once familiar and ambiguous, ordered and disrupted. The very substance of paint, of marks on the surface, references not only Naudé’s engagement with the world, but the skill, commitment and judgment one senses have been honed over years: a particular, intimate connection between the artist’s hand and head – a tactile and tacit knowledge of subject and medium that is imbedded in the work. His is a dialogue between practice and thinking that is layered not only in terms of technical virtuosity, but layered in terms of meaning and subtle references/links that viewers might make when looking at his work.
However, while Naudé’s work might be read partly as a commentary on life’s absurdities and ironies (displayed more than ever in this extraordinary year), this is not an artist setting out in the first place to dictate meaning. His work is seductive in the way that it ‘entices’ meaning. From smaller works of pure abstraction with a lightness and economy of brushstrokes to the layered complexity of works in which familiar motifs recur, Naude’s work is a life recast in paint. The surface is the primary site, in the very gesture and substance of paint, where meaning is first and foremost generated and where it resides. It is a flirtation with paint that comes across in a life lived with and through his art. And it is, ironically, not beige.