Flowers of the Cape Peninsula, Vol. 1 | Andrew Putter Solo Exhibition at the Barnard Gallery
Archival pigment inks on paper
Date: Saturday 2 December 2023
Time: 3pm – 6pm
Venue: Barnard Gallery, 55 Main Street, Newlands (not Main Road).
Please note: the exhibition will be open to the public for one afternoon only.
Inspired by his long-term interest in indigenous plants, each of Andrew Putter’s twelve new artworks – collectively titled Flowers of the Cape Peninsula, Vol. 1 – focuses on a different plant indigenous to the Cape Peninsula, where he has lived and worked his entire life.
The Cape is the most species-rich plant kingdom in the world, packing in more botanical diversity per square meter than even the planet’s rain forests. This floral abundance has provided Putter with rich creative opportunities.
Putter’s new body of art brings to mind 17th century Dutch flower paintings, Henri Matisse’s paper cut-outs, Andy Warhol screen prints and David Hockney’s iPad drawings. Over the five years of preparing to make these new works, Putter returned again and again to these influences.
A continuation of – and departure from – Putter’s previous flower artworks
Putter’s best-known plant-inspired artworks – his Flora Capensis series of 2007 – depicted arrangements of Cape plants with the obsessive, almost photographic accuracy of 17th century Dutch flower painting. His new works are also inspired by Cape plants, but they aim to do something quite different.
European botanical illustration
Putter retains the compositional conventions of the long tradition of European botanical illustration. Instead of depicting a plant with the scientific accuracy of the botanical illustrator, he conveys the ever-shifting liveliness and changeability of the Fynbos: the unfolding of a flower, the rustling of leaves in the wind, petals dramatically changing as the sunlight determines perception of colour throughout the day.
The influence of Henri Matisse
Whilst preparing to make these works, Putter returned often to Matisse’s freely distorted forms, the quirky outlines of his scissor-made cut-outs, and his radical simplification of colour. This provided him with some of the tools to make this new body of art.
In 2019, Putter started making art daily on an iPad, exchanging a new picture every morning with fellow artist Carol Ayton in the UK, something they continue to this day. This five-year long practice has allowed him to explore new ways of depicting plants, using heightened colour and effects borrowed from silk screen printing.
The influence of silk screen printing
Screen printing – made famous by Andy Warhol – has been another strong influence. In screen printing, images are separated by colour into different layers, one for each colour. Each layer can then be printed independently from the others, often creating unintended mis-registration effects.
The layers-based application that Putter utilises on the iPad produces similar effects and is used intentionally throughout Flowers of the Cape Peninsula. Flattened areas of colour are placed slightly independently of each other, allowing the artist to break up the forms of each plant, conveying a sense of something seen to be moving and changing. The dark backgrounds, borrowed from his earlier foray into 17th century Dutch flower painting, enhance the impression that each plant is shimmeringly composed of these independent, hyper-saturated layers of colour.
Part of what initially drew Putter to the iPad is that he can print from an iPad, allowing him to take full advantage of the breathtaking range of colours available in high-end digital printing. Having trained at the Michaelis School of Fine Art as a printmaker and painter in the 1980s, Putter has a long history of exhibiting print-based art. Before committing himself to the iPad, he studied David Hockney’s iPad prints in London. He also made many technical tests on a wide-gamut Epson printer to better understand how to translate colours on a monitor into colours on paper.
So began the long practice of drawing on an iPad and printing with archival pigment inks which has culminated in this new body of work.
Andrew Putter’s previous botanical artworks
Botanically inspired artmaking is nothing new to Putter. His last series of botanically inspired artworks – his Flora Capensis – has been acquired by some of the world’s most prestigious museums, including the Smithsonian Museum in Washington (see http://archive.stevenson.info/exhibitions/putter/floracapensis.htm) and Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.
Flora Capensis also made a dramatic impact on the local cultural world. Johnny Clegg was prompted by this work to interview Putter for A Country Imagined, his nationally televised series about landscape art in South Africa. Veld and Flora – the magazine of the South African Botanical Society – published an issue which used one of the Flora Capensis works on its cover and included an article by Putter on the making of the artworks which won the award for best article of that year. The South African Parliament, which houses a remarkable art collection, owns copies of all six of Putter’s Flora Capensis prints.
Andrew Putter lives and works in Cape Town. His art has been exhibited widely, including at the National Gallery of Canada (2012), the Kunsthalle Tubingen in Germany (2018), and the Walther Collection Project Space in New York (2012)
His art is currently on display at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art in Washington, and is part of their permanent collection. Putter was the winner of the Spier Contemporary Award in 2007, and represented South Africa at the 55th Venice Biennial (2013) and the 10th Havana Biennial (2009). His art was selected by the Museum of Modern Art in Helsinki – along with a handful of other artists including El Anatsui and Pieter Hugo – to represent contemporary African art in the important survey show titled ARS 11 (2011). In 2015, his work was the subject of one of Tamar Garb’s three Slade Professor (Oxford) lectures.
Putter is well-known as a teacher, and runs Putter School, one of Cape Town’s most popular extramural creativity programmes for teenagers. After many requests to do so, he will introduce evening creativity classes for adults at the beginning of 2024.