IS Art proudly presents an exhibition of abstract contemporary South African art by Jacqueline Crewe Brown. The exhibition will open at IS Art on the 25th of February  2018.

Words and photography by Hendrik Theron for IS Art.

An Afternoon with Jacqueline Crewe Brown

It is said that in modern times we have lost the so-called ‘renaissance man’ – the critical thinker, the virtuosic doer, the connoisseur of all things. However, never has it been so apparent that we might also have lost the lesser-famed ‘renaissance woman’, than when reflecting on an afternoon spent with Jacqueline Crewe Brown.

She is cut from the very same cloth as those greats of bygone eras, now merely the subject matter of dust-laden history books and re-tellings of more authentic and culturally prosperous times. In this sense then, time spent with Jacqueline is truly refreshing – an experience of authenticity in its simplest form. Authenticity not merely for the sake of it, or to keep face, but flowing from a deeply engrained belief that it is a value worth upholding, enshrining and playing custodian to, through art and an accompanying manner of life.

An air of timelessness is what comes to mind when considering Jacqueline and her art.  Her lifestyle and the art which it underlies is inspired. A lifestyle curated by an exceedingly knowledgeable, well-read and worldly individual. She is the type of individual that leaves a lasting impression and motivates you to re-evaluate how you go about your day-to-day life – what do you ultimately want to play custodian to?

Upon arrival, there was no delay in the boiling of a kettle (upon gas stove, naturally) and equally no delay in the assumption that I shall be taking tea – earl grey or rooibos? I chose the latter. It quickly became apparent to me that the Crewe Brown’s awe-inspiring mountain-top villa overlooking the Franschhoek Valley wasn’t merely an as-it-happens acquisition, but rather a by-design hideaway from the overbearing rigours of modernity and sanctuary to a culturally enlightened lifestyle.

After tea was secured, we adjourned to Jacqueline’s atelier, her two dogs – a Rhodesian Ridgeback and a Jack Russell – confidently leading the way.  It was clear that the two of them were equally at home amongst the paint brushes and scenic views, so much so that it would not have been a surprise to me if I had been able to snapshot the art variant of Cassius Coolidge’s ‘Dogs Playing Poker.’ All jesting aside, it was evident that Jacqueline had spent an exorbitant amount of time – dogs securely at her side – laboriously and lovingly crafting these works that I have come to view. The extent of this intimate and extensive creation I would soon discover.

Throughout the afternoon’s engagement with Jacqueline and her work, I had become unceasingly aware of (and equally galvanised by) the rigours of her creative process. To me it was akin to an old world alchemy of sorts – where the inception of the recipe and the methodology applied was crucially important to the desired outcome. To this end, I was positively entranced and somewhat dumbfounded when Jacqueline carefully and somewhat reservedly presented me with her concept journal. In it I would find a collection of meticulous and mesmerising notes, photographs taken whilst travelling and concept sketches. This very much adding to Jacqueline’s façade as ‘renaissance woman’ at large. In that moment I was transported years into the future, where someone would unearth this very journal from those very same dust-laden shelves and be equally as mesmerised as I currently was by the sheer beauty of these ‘recipes’ alone – a timeless entity completely separate from the works they would ultimately create.

Flowing from this, Jacqueline and I went into a discussion on the importance of creative process. Here she expounded on her love for the works and creative processes of the abstract impressionists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. She took particular interest in combating the common misconception that abstract art is ‘shallow’ and without deeper meaning, merely being the product of uncontrolled inspiration and unconscious, accidental creation.  To this end, she cited Pollock’s very own painstaking creative process of carefully planning and continuously revisiting his concepts. (As Pollock once said about abstract art as an entity, “the strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.”) In addition then to her natural perfectionist tendencies, Jacqueline confides that greats such as Rothko and Pollock inspire her to create meaningful and value-driven abstract art and shy away from ‘art just for the sake of art.’

As the afternoon whisked by, I enquired about the use of exceedingly vibrant colours in her compositions, particularly that of this new body of work. Noting that she was never one to shy away from lively colours, she noted that these almost luminous colours in particular were a proof of concept to her – flagging a calculated re-design of her inspirations and the works they inform. These entrancing colours then being the most notable telltale of a brave departure into the expanse of her own artistic horizons. The vivacious nature of these colours then also being a product of their ‘authentic’ origin and formulation. Jacqueline uses carefully selected pigments gathered upon her travels to create her own paint – which upon reflection is somewhat unsurprising. This piece of information, unexceptional by her presentation thereof (a kind of, ‘what of it?’) had put an unquantifiable degree of tangibility to her work, removing it from that echelon of unattainable, unfathomable and pseudo-pretentious abstract creation – I was completely taken away by it. In addition, this newfound knowledge surrounding the origin of these pigments underlying the transcendent and mesmerising colours, transported me completely into the cultural milieu from which they derive.

About the Artist – As far as her personal life is concerned, Jacqueline is a globetrotter and inquisitive mind by design – born in England and raised in Uganda and Kenya. For the tertiary leg of her education, she attended the Michaelis School of Art at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. After this she would have various career endeavours, but never losing sight of her artistic roots. To this end, she studied lithography and painting part time at Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design during the 1970’s. After returning to South Africa, she formally set about a career as full time artist with her first exhibition in 1999. Since then her work has made its way into various private and public collections both in South Africa and abroad.

Currently she lives with her husband and two dogs in their picturesque mountain-top villa in the Franschhoek Valley of the Western Cape, South Africa. She is an avid homemaker and gardener with their house being featured in numerous lifestyle magazines.

Jacqueline has been on sabbatical for some time now, enthusiastically spending her time travelling, gathering inspiration and refining her craft. The result of which being her most recent body of work to be featured at IS Art in March of 2018.

About the Exhibition – Jacqueline’s art has become known for its vibrant and emotional activism of societal issues. Traditionally her works have been a voice particularly for the battered and bruised concept of the feminine in our societal constructs. The seared, broken, abused and conflicted place of the feminine in our collective identity has been portrayed by damning texts in her work accompanied by violent slashes and scars. These are physically administered by her and not merely applied at surface level. Jacqueline does this in a calculated and meticulous method to emphasise the physicality of the wounds and derogations inflicted. Consequently, her work has always been a voice for the vulnerable and tarnished.

In her new work Jacqueline admits to applying this methodology in a transitory fashion. She seeks to re-develop herself and her inspirations, but not the form nor function of her work. To this end, Jacqueline notes the inspiration for this body derives primarily from her travels. She and her husband are avid travellers, with an inclination toward lesser developed and socially strained countries with rich heritage – Egypt, Mexico, Hungary and North Africa to mention a few. Consequently, her most recent work can very much be seen as a travel journal of sorts – a visual presentation of the most enticing aspects of her expeditions. Remaining true to form, however, these visual extrapolations are not merely snapshots of the silver linings, but very much a commentary on the harsh and taxed societal circumstances and history that befall a given destination.

Jacqueline firmly believes in meaningful expression in her art and as result her works are quite literally layered with meaning. She relies heavily on symbolism and colour, derived from the given geographical region, to bring across meaning and commentary. On top of these influences, she affects her traditional kinetic application of hidden text, unruly line work, geometrical shape, physical lacerations and tangible stitching to create something truly unique and moving. Jacqueline is able to transport the onlooker into a given social and cultural dynamic. Though the symbolism, colour and physicality of each work she is able to masterfully convey emotion and thought.

This exhibition can be seen at IS Art, 11 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek  from 25 February to 25 March 2018. For more information, please contact the gallery at or (+27)21 876 2071.