Penny Siopis


Paintings

16 April - 30 May 2009

Michael Stevenson is pleased to present a solo exhibition of new paintings by Penny Siopis.

Siopis' recent work, seen at Michael Stevenson on her solo show Lasso (2007) and the curated exhibitions Disguise (2008) and Afterlife (2007), has been concerned with giving expression to intense emotional states. Key to Siopis' exploration are the associative qualities of both her imagery and her chosen materials, including oils, liquid ink washes and viscous glue. Her new work demonstrates a deeper and wilder surrender to the freedom of this process, which she describes as follows:

I start simply by being struck by an image. Something odd, curious, dramatic. The image can come from newspapers, books, movies, magazines, other art, my imagination or direct experiences. Many of these images are at once violent, erotic, tragic and beautiful. They are atavistic and elemental as well as social and analytical at the same time. Many allegorise deep human experiences like collapse, disorder, decay and formlessness. Process, chance and materiality (literally paint, ink, canvas, paper, glue acting on a surface) excite me, especially when unpredictable. I value this unpredictability. It creates a vital tension or energy between form and formlessness, balancing them on a knife-edge.

The large-scale canvas Migrants arose from Siopis' experience of an explosive frenzy of birds attacking and consuming a swarm of flying ants. Still Waters is a condensation of images which emerged in the process of painting - an infestation of jellyfish in Thessaloniki harbour, Shakespeare's Ophelia, Monet's Waterlilies. Three Trees, an image of violent rape and turbulent erotic energy, is inspired - like Floating World - by the contemporary resonance of Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Miracle draws on separate incidents reported in the media in which mothers were forced to throw their babies out of burning buildings to safety, while Hundred Pieces references Georges Bataille's take on an infamous image of Chinese torture dating from 1905, which for Bataille embodied the convergence of erotic and religious experience through extreme pain/trauma. In all these works, materiality, chance and process play as vital a role as the diverse stories to which Siopis refers.

Siopis was born in Vryburg in 1953 and is based in Johannesburg, where she is Associate Professor in Fine Arts at the University of the Witwatersrand. She has exhibited extensively both locally and internationally, and recent group shows have included Black Womanhood: Images, icons, and ideologies of the African body at the Hood Museum, Dartmouth College, and other university art galleries in the United States (2008/9); Test Patterns: Recent video work from South Africa, San Francisco Camerawork (2009); Africa: Personal poetics, Guangzhou Triennial, China (2008); Make Art/Stop AIDS, Fowler Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles (2008); Apartheid: The South African mirror, Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona (2007); and Bound, Tate Liverpool (2007).

Siopis exhibits concurrently with Nandipha Mntambo.

Click here to read Penny Siopis in conversation with Sarah Nuttall, published in the catalogue accompanying this exhibition.

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