FNB Art Joburg
Sandton Convention
Centre, Johannesburg,
South Africa

Artist of Interest

Between Two Palms: New works from Durban

with Georgina Gratrix

Informed by inquisition, Georgina Gratrix’s practice can be approached as a study into colouration and expressionism. Known for her waggish take on portraiture and her gaudy still lives, Between Two Palms: New works from Durban is her first solo exhibition with Stevenson. An addition to her inquiry, the show uses the east coastal city as a case study. On her new findings, the artist talks to FNB Art Joburg about the spoils of painting as a practice in community with other painters. 

“I feel like painting is in reference to other paintings. You can’t make anything without it being in conversation with someone else,” says Georgina Gratrix in response to a question on where she could locate herself in South Africa’s contemporary art ecosystem. “So in conversation. That is what the object of painting is. There is that dialogue with paintings that have come before mine.” To open up the gates of discourse and scholarship surrounding painting, Gratrix employs the idea of belonging to a community. 

Consider the work sharing half of its title with the exhibition, Between Two Palms: A Painter’s Lunch. Here Gratrix visuales the idea of all paintings being in conversation with past paintings by bringing herself, friends, patrons, painters and painted characters together between the aforementioned palm trees. Poised, in a black jacket and white-collared blouse with an arrangement of flowers in her hair, the character standing in the centre of the group shot is taken from Irma Stern’s 1941 painting, Argentinian Woman. Homage to Stern, the character’s presence in a Gratrix painting subtly suggests that the late artist’s practice is present in her painting psyche. The same goes for Robert Hodgins’ Commander, Maud Sumner’s Fat Lady as well as the painters who we see in the work: Penny Siopis, Gladys Mgudlandlu, Andrew Verster and Marlene Dumas. “ I suppose it’s a very obvious way of saying this,” she confirms the assertion. “But those artists are very important culturally”  

In a bid toward moving the conversation between painters out of the canvas group chat that is exhibitions, over the last year, or so, Gratrix has spent an extended period working outside of her own studio. To make Studio Ping Pong, their shared exhibition at the KZN SA Gallery, Cameron Platter shared his space with Gratrix. For Colima 302, her solo at Proyectos Monclova, the artist was stationed at a studio in Mexico City for several months. Before this, she was in residency at the Irma Stern Museum where The Cult of Ugliness was both conceptualised and exhibited. Most recently, Gratrix occupied Pascale Chandler’s studio where she took extra lessons as a teenager. 

“I’ve been enjoying these opportunities where I get to go to a place, connect and respond,” she smiles. A prompt informed by her practice previously being solitary and self-sufficient, recent encounters have opened her up to mediation while in process. “It hasn’t been a period of ‘what do I want to make’ but of ‘what do I want to connect to?’ I have become more relaxed and more open to those distractions and interferences as a part of the practice. I think it’s been good for me not to be so isolated.”


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