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Featured: Deborah Poynton | Art Is Always Artful

Deborah Poynton

Scene with Two Boys in a Boat, 2013, Oil on canvas, 150 x 230cm


Deborah Poynton’s paintings conjure up feelings of forgotten childhood memories, presenting views, or scenes, of a world that we feel like we know intimately, but are excluded from entering fully. Her paintings engage with the different layers of perceiving and perception that are part of both the artists’ and the viewers’ experience of an artwork. In her upcoming new show, Scenes of a Romantic Nature, Deborah’s work continues to reflect on her assertion that: “’Art is an offering, a show that mirrors the show we form around ourselves as we move through our scenery. Art is always artful, a ruse, a trick. It is part of the dream that we inhabit.”


The show will feature 21 new large-scale paintings in two distinct but related series as well as, for the first time, accompanying drawings. The series Scenes of a Romantic Nature continues her study of 17th – 19th century European Romantic painters, whose images aspire to capture the Sublime. In the Proposition paintings, Deborah experiments with a different approach to detail and the dramatic tension between absence and substance, influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Together, these two series present different views of the same scene, as Deborah’s explains that “there is a great emptiness in every kind of image. A finished, perfected work remains as insubstantial as the slight lines that first form a proposition on the canvas. All images are just propositions, in that they show up the difficulty we have in perceiving the world except through the filter of ourselves.”  



Please can you give us a snapshot into your creative process and work environment?


My studio is at home and I look out onto Table Mountain. I like to work within a general concept for an exhibition and then feel my way, elaborating on it. I work full time. The images are not real, they are constructed from elements of the things I see in my life. I use photographs as references but do not prepare with Photoshop, or project. There are shifts and distortions in perspective and light that show that these are made-up places. They slowly grow on the canvas, with many layers using more and more thin brushes. I feel as if I start off big, and wild, then kill the image off with a serviceable layer to provide the structure, then slowly tease out the life again with fine details.


With the Propositions it’s different, I feel my way almost like a blind person, and sometimes come back the next day and just do one mark, it is about finding a balance, a sense of place on the canvas, without intending too much.



How do acts of looking and observing as well as notions of perception function in your art?


I feel as if my work is paradoxical, because it is pointing towards the fact that we can’t look, observe or perceive without constructing meaning. Merleau-Ponty said “Because we are in the world, we are condemned to meaning”, so the things I paint are meaningfully pointing towards lack of meaning. I don’t want to make images that self-consciously mean something, because I find it restful to be relieved of that imposition. Of course that is a paradox. It is exactly like the paradox that we feel as if we have free will, but know logically that the universe must be deterministic.



Can you please explain the interplay between detail and distance; substance and absence in your work?


The more substance and detail there is, the more the absence, or lack of meaning that I have referred to above is underlined. There is a sweet, painful feeling in that.


Deborah Poynton

Seascape with a Sailboat, 2014, Oil on canvas, 150 x 230cm

Deborah Poynton

Scene with a Fire, 2013, Oil on canvas, 150 x 230cm


Please tell us about the title of your upcoming show, Scenes of a Romantic Nature, and how this pun extends into the individual artworks in the series?


I hold up beautiful mirages, that’s what the images feel like; they are veils, but not hiding anything. To me everything is Romantic, because everything is a construct. We fit the world to us and ourselves to the world. So it is in our nature to be Romantic, to romance stories around ourselves, and we are a part of nature, but we can’t see it except through this veil of self-consciousness.


How has your research into Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints influenced your art-making?


I have looked at them for many years, and it is their simplicity, the way that design blends with subject, the way the artists both used their observations of the world, and were influenced by them, a delicate balance of content, beauty, style, and skill, that takes my breath away.


Deborah Poynton

Proposition 3, 2015, Oil on canvas, 230 x 190.5cm

Deborah Poynton

Proposition 4, 2015, Oil on canvas, 230 x 190.5cm



How do the two bodies of work, Scenes of a Romantic Nature and Proposition, relate to and influence each other?


I am interested in the fact that they are two sides of the same coin. The very finished work is also just a proposition, also just a thin veil. And the Proposition paintings are as susceptible to romantic meaning, to construct, as the very layered “realistic” work. They come from the same place, and although they look very different they are the same – places to dream.


Deborah Poynton

Proposition 5, 2015, Oil on canvas, 230 x 190.5cm

Deborah Poynton

Scene with Strelitzias, 2014, Oil on canvas, 150 x 230cm



For the first time you’re exhibiting accompanying drawings. Is this a medium you enjoy working in?  


It is a return to the passion for drawing which I had as a child. Such small works seem to make me small, shrinking like Alice to enter the page.


Scenes of a Romantic Nature opens at Stevenson Gallery Johannesburg on the 12th February 2015 and runs until the 20th March. For more information visit the gallery website.


Deborah Poynton

Boy with a Church Tower, 014, Colour pencil on paper, 305 x 228mm

Deborah Poynton

Boy on a Stoep, 2014, Oil on canvas, 230 x 150cm

Deborah Poynton

View of a Fire, 2014, Colour pencil on paper, 305 x 228mm

Deborah Poynton

Beach View, 2014, Colour pencil on paper, 305 x 228mm

Deborah Poynton

Seascape with Red Flowers, 2014, Oil on canvas, 230 x 150cm

Deborah Poynton

Fynbos Study Scene, 2014, Colour pencil on paper, 305 x 228mm

Deborah Poynton

Portrait with a Beach Setting, 2014, Colour pencil on paper, 305 x 228mm

Deborah Poynton

Boy at the Seaside, 2014, Colour pencil on paper, 305 x 228mm

Deborah Poynton

Scene with an Old Man, 2014, Oil on canvas, 150 x 230cm

Deborah Poynton

Scene with Horses in a Quarry, 2013, Oil on canvas, 150 x 230cm


All images ©Deborah Poynton, courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

Photos: Mario Todeschini.


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