2023 A deep dive into the classic and contemporary genres of African art (excerpt), Bongo Mei, Stirworld, India

There are different art styles prevalent in South Africa, that connect the worlds of classical and contemporary arts. While most are not well versed with the art scene of the region, through an exploration of three South African galleries—showcasing a diversity of perception, philosophy, and technique—STIR conversed with three artists who are shaping thee Afircan art landscape with progressive aestheticism.

Deborah Poynton, a South Africa-based artist with 25 years of experience as a professional painter, has exhibited around the world, in Germany, Cailfornia, Mauritius, the Netherlands, the UAE, to mention a few. Her 13th exhibition with the Stevenson gallery, Vertigo, comprises oil paintings on canvas and drawings on black paper. The scale of her artworks, of which some are self-portraits, is often large and immersive.

When asked if she considers herself a giant in the art world, she replies with a giggle, saying, “I want the person looking at the artificial illusion I have created to feel like they could enter the visual space (…) the larger they are the more there’s a physical interaction.” While, to an ordinary eye her paintings might seem and be attributed to hyperrealism, Poynton explains how she is more classical with her application approach, much like classical realists who gathered references from everywhere for the drawings. “They pursued an idea of an image called invention, where they constructed landscapes and environments that only exist on the canvas, they don’t exist in real life,” she says.

Citing herself as an ‘Invention Realist,’ Poynton collects references from different surroundings to create her own setting on the canvas, always mindful of the desired outcome, which is that of accommodating the audience. The titular artwork, Vertigo, 2022, is somewhat illustrative of this and seems to depict a person who has fallen from a state of dizziness into a cluster of mess. A mirror occupying two thirds of the painting reflects two feet in a third of its circumference, leaving the interior point vacant, reflecting a white wall or a sense of nothingness.

Poynton’s artworks such as, Meaning and Purpose, Hominids, Mind’s Eye, Great Ape, and Vertigo capture an inclusive context of the environment with a white space, which is tactfully implemented to suggest nothingness, imposing visual philosophical critiques—of whether absence should be embraced in the same light as that of recognition? Or could the white space be a white wall representative of the gallery, alluding to how as a film director constructs a setting, she, an invention realist, creates artificial illusions, thereby shown in the setting of a gallery.