AbstRacT – the hidden synchrony

On show till February 2024

This exhibition takes a closer look at the synchrony in the complete Synchromies series by Swiss psychiatrist, psychotherapist and later turned photographer Oscar Forel (1891-1982) that was published in 1961. The study of trees, their growth, their bark and identifying signs of events the tree had witnessed were the crucial aspects in this encapsulating series – that are truly fragments of a larger whole.

The series of 53 macro photographs differing in size and scale, projecting their harmonious and natural colours; they might visually draw comparison to famed and iconic artworks found the world over or evoke personal memories or nostalgia. These images are taken of different tree species found the world over. Their wonderful textures portrayed by Forel’s photographs were captured by using an ordinary reflex camera on Kodachrome film, with a wide lens at 10-15cm.

Detail – A Study in Curvature by Strijdom van der Merwe


Nature, from the soil to the sky, has been the inspiration for many artists over time and still today. This is evident with the selection of South African artists, from the Rupert Foundation Collection, who is showcased amidst these close-up photographs. These artists explored the wonders of textured conscious abstract innovations from the late 1950s into the 1960s. The South African art world was slow in accepting Abstract art – a movement characterised by its freedom from the representational and known for celebrating line, form and colour in its pure form.

The selection of Abstract works in this exhibition have been paired up with Synchromies, to find harmony or reciprocal synergyThese pairings enhance the ‘synchromy’ which Forel termed, derived from “symphony” with ‘phonos’ (sound) being replaced by ‘chromos’ (colour).

The bark of spruce, fir, pine, and beech, at different times of the year, invaded by fungus, seared by fire, coerced by their location into tortured, twisted shapes are similarly the types of marks, dynamic colour combinations and encrusted surfaces masterfully explored by artists such as Bettie Cilliers-Barnard (1914-2020), Christo Coetzee (1929-2000), Dirk Meerkotter (1922-2017), Georgina Ormiston (1903-1967), and Gunter van der Reis (b1927) to mention a few.

As for Forel he treated each surface as a rare discovery, he would wipe and clean the chosen bark with brush and sponge, sometimes this would polish and bronze the surface, highlighting and revealing an array of colours and textures. He noted that Synchromies could have been subtitled natura pinxit – painted by Nature. As the painter chose to free themselves from tradition by creating abstract marks on canvas so Forel found abstract line, form and colour already existing in nature.

Today, a better understanding of plant life, its behaviour, growth, and decay has become vital to the rehabilitation of our ecosystem. This study posits a close look at a very topical issue while inviting each viewer to explore the enchanted forms and colours that reveal the ‘art’ hidden in nature.

Detail installation view

On invitation acclaimed Land Artist Strijdom van der Merwe is included by his intervention to create a dialogue with ‘the hidden synchrony’. This conceptualized installation and the latest work by the artist, A Study on Curvature, made from 3mm bended plywood will only be on show till 1 October 2023. The sculptural fragments are mainly in conversation with and were inspired by the photography of Oscar Forel.

The approach for van der Merwe was to recreate the feeling which Forel summons with his images– magnifying the minute details of the seemingly overlooked abstract art found within nature. A Study in Curvature is an attempt to elicit this sense of smallness by means of visual aid. In this instance, the humble wood shaving is used as a vessel to emphasize this feeling of smallness. Every curvature or shaving is a fragment of the whole. Each curved form is a celebration of the freedom in movement that the line presents. These shapes all sculptural in their appearance but adapt and change identity from nature to form the purest abstraction.


This exhibition is accompanied by an art activity box suited for 5-10year olds. It is exclusively available from the museum or its online shop, visit now  https://rupertmuseum.org/product-category/gifts/

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