4 April - 18 May 2012

Deborah Poynton


STEVENSON is pleased to present a solo exhibition by Deborah Poynton, her first at the gallery's space in Johannesburg.

The Land of Cockaigne was the medieval idea of a paradise of plenty. For Poynton, the act of painting is an attempt to enter this fantastical world - but in an unexpected way. As the artist writes:

In the Land of Cockaigne every wish was granted. I have used this title not because I wanted to illustrate paradise, but because painting itself is that land of never-realised fulfillment. Every painting I do comes from the same need to inhabit this land, to create a sense of engulfment, of complete enclosure, to blind and deafen and numb myself through the senses in order to find some peace. I persist with the image until no uncertainty remains within it, and I am thus provided with the illusion of certainty.

This exhibition consists of seven large paintings, each a discrete world made up of different elements - figures, fabric, plants, objects. In each of the paintings, there is no horizon, no means of escaping the sensual detail which seems to engulf the onlooker. A detailed realism is central to Poynton's practice to create her illusion of certainty, albeit within spaces of pure abandon:

The more real-seeming the image is, the better it serves my ends, because then a paradox is set up which is just like the paradox in life: the more we try to define something, either literally or figuratively, the faster it seems to elude our grasp. They seem real, but only show up the illusion. They are sublime, and therefore ridiculous. They flaunt beauty and skill and but these attributes float like detached retinas, they form a screen blinding the onlooker to the painting's artificial truth, its true lie.

Her process of painting is initiated by sketching out the large image on the canvas with an expressive, free, loose brushstroke, which, if it were seen by the viewer, would easily affirm common perceptions about mark-making and the notion of the expressive painter. Yet Poynton does not find relief in that kind of self-expression:

Instead, I paint layer upon layer of smaller and smaller brushstrokes, and in this way I approach a realism. The finished surface is an annihilation of the expressive self. It is full submersion; the tiny brush-marks seal the surface like a skin so that each image is its own universe, an entity with its innards hidden.

Her intense realism forces us to confront contemporary notions of art practice not only in terms of style but also subject. She seeks out subjects that do not confront us with significance, political or conceptual, perhaps because she wishes to sidestep the fabrications of meaning. Poynton is playful with the language of painting and the expectations of symbolism that can leave us chasing our own tails until, as she writes, 'we are exhausted and faced with only our shadows'.

Click here to read Poynton's text about this body of work in full.

Poynton was born in 1970 in Durban, and lives and works in Cape Town. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1987 to 1989. She has held four solo exhibitions at Stevenson in Cape Town, most recently Arcadia in 2011. She showed at the KZNSA Gallery, Durban, in 2010, and her last solo show in Johannesburg was at Warren Siebrits in 2007. She held her first solo exhibitions in the United States, at the Savannah College of Art and Design's galleries in Savannah and Atlanta, in 2009. Group exhibitions include A Conversation with Bolus at the Michaelis Galleries, University of Cape Town (2011); Von Liebeslust und Lebenslast - der inszenierte Alltagat, Corvey Castle, near Höxter, Germany (2009); and New Painting, travelling from the KZNSA Gallery, Durban, to Unisa Art Gallery, Pretoria, and Johannesburg Art Gallery (2006). Her work is in the Scheringa Museum of Realist Art in the Netherlands, among other collections.

The exhibition opens on Wednesday 4 April 2012, from 6 to 8pm.