Jeanne Gaigher is an emerging artist from Cape Town who’s on a fast-track into the contemporary art scene. Her debut solo exhibition, Club, opened at Smith Gallery recently, and this weekend Smith is presenting her work at the FNB JoburgArtFair. Using painting as an expressive form to capture mood and a sense of pervasive mystery, Jeanne’s work presents a series of seemingly disconnected moments or fragmented scenes that span from restaurants in China to the murky swamps of Louisiana. These disparate episodes are tied together through the metaphysical writings of the Argentinean erudite author, Jorge Luis Borges, who proposed an alternate spacial-temporal view of the universe governed by infinite possibilities. Using an intoxicating colour palette and layers of paint, surface material and different mediums, Jeanne’s artworks suggest the permeability of a moment in time, which while defined for an instant, is in fact poised on the brink of dissolving, melting and merging with the next.
Club is your first solo exhibition at SMITH. Can you tell us a little about how this came about?
Amy, the curator, saw my work when I made a scrim for Elle Decoration that they shot in SMITH’s office.
As a trained printmaker and photographer, what prompted you to start painting and what about this medium are you enjoying?
There are too many rules with printmaking and I’m never able to take a great photo that contains the exact colour and subject matter I would like to see in one frame. I choose paint as the over arching outcome as it can take on any shape. Painting emphasises the mythical quality of photography – it stages a reality according to how I’ve manipulated the photograph.
Similarly, how does your background in photography and printmaking influence and inform your painting?
When I paint I think of the etching workshops I attended at university. I apply paint layer upon layer but not as systematically. Photography is an important part of my process. It’s a tool to first handedly engage with people and place. I’m very interested in journalism and how it mythifies the subject matter depening on the context you read it in. I wanted to create a context that is slightly removed from reality. Painting and the works on scrim helped me to create this ideal scenario to reassess the subject matter that you see in the photographs.
What lead you to start experimenting with scrim and incorporating it into your work?
I was looking for a new surface to paint on. I searched until I found scrim. When applying the ink it feels like I’m weaving some strange tapestry. When standing in front of the scrim it looks like the ink had disappeared. The colour quality changes depending on what angle you’re viewing it from. I like the rhythm it creates.
Does this material have a conceptual or thematic function? Please tell us about the way in which you use it in your work and why.
Each of the works become a method of communication, creating a dialogue when seen in relation to one another.
In your artist’s statement accompanying the exhibition you describe the title of the show, Club, as a kind of trans spacial-temporal nexus. Can you tell us more about the title and what this signifies for the body of work?
Club is a place where all my encounters are archived. It’s the method I follow to keep my research open to all possible outcomes. I don’t write with a specific beginning or ending in mind. It’s not dependent on a chronological way of telling. It’s fractures of experiences that live together – an imagined community. It’s an ideal place to paint in. I have the freedom to sometimes try and understand non-existent stories or situations.
How did you first become interested in Borges’ work and how have you incorporated his ideas about space, time and identity into this show?
I read Labyrinths while producing this body of work. My work isn’t a representation of his stories. It’s a guide or structure to, what seems like, an obscure way of being. Different events led to one another while traveling. Switching from China to the swamps of Louisiana. Containing all the information within a painted archive. It helped me to include all characters and scenarios I wanted. An obscure world is also needed to help shift ideas around identity. In the end it’s clear that identity is anything you want to be at any moment. We tend to operate very systematically because of how safe it makes us feel. Even though a labyrinth or the idea of non-linear time feels chaotic, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a system or structure of great potential.
“Never to get lost is not to live, not to know how to get lost brings you to destruction.” – Rebecca Solnit
It’s about being present within situations or conversation that make you uncomfortable or that you don’t fully understand. You don’t have to have the answers to everything but we shouldn’t be scared to engage – it broadens your thoughts and ideas. We need this sometimes to get rid of our precious selves.
In your Shape Shifters print series you employ another kind of layering. Can you tell us a little about the technique you’ve used and why?
The photographs are mostly snapshots of everyday life. Without the paint, people feel no connection towards the subjects in the photos. They’re too ordinary. When they turn into fictive subjects, when they’re removed from their ordinary environments, it immediately opens up new conversations and relationships.
Please tell us about your use of colour in this collection of works.
I pretend to be a cinematographer when choosing the colours to create the atmosphere I want. I use color as a thread to tie the three different mediums; scrim, canvas and photography together. The colours set up an ideal platform so all the different ideas can be read together. It’s difficult to tell you why I chose spesific colours. I usually have a colour coded plan of what I hope the painting would look like but it always ends up looking completely different.
How have your travels in Asia and America influenced your work, in particular this show?
I ended up in both places by chance. It became my site spesific projects. Out of Louisiana and China came characters that will perform as agents to engage with my surroundings for me in projects to come. There’re probably visual clues in the work that can be traced back to Asia and America. Some scenes are swampy because of the color usage. The photographs were taken in China. I like the combination of the two. I’m excited to immerse myself in the South-African context.
What’s next for you and what will you be showing at the FNB JoburgArtFair?
I’ll be showing a body of paintings on canvas, painted photographic series and scrim. I have a project up my sleeve. It will be something painted but it’s a secret for now. www.smithstudio.co.za/jeanne-gaigher