We chatted to this year’s Absa L’Atelier merit award winner, artist Jaco van Schalkwyk about his latest exhibition at the Barnard Gallery in Cape Town.
‘I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things…’ is your latest showcase. What can viewers expect from this exhibition? My latest exhibition, ‘I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things’, is a body of work comprised of theatrical installation. By exploring the intertwined nature of faith and art, I recontextualise the perpetuation of ritual and allegory. We find ourselves in an era of hypertheatralisation. The mundane is elevated to dubious significance and relevance. My art works, including an Altarpiece (4200mm X 4900mm), both echo and question the expressive ornamentation and violent intensity of our age and direct the viewers’ attention to the empty gorgeousness of commerce. I thus become both the creator and questioner of beauty.
How does this body of work differ to your previous exhibitions? My previous solo exhibition, ‘Just a matter of time’, explored the documentary and archival characteristics of visual art. The pictorial plot of the exhibition centered on the exploration and documentation of my childhood religious community. My main concern was the effect time has on people and their environment with imagery dealing with concepts of community, slaughter, sacrifice and survival. Although my latest solo exhibition revisits spiritual and religious ideology it differs from the previous exhibition in the sense that I abandoned minimalist restraint to create eclectic visual rituals that act as an abridgement of my ideas regarding contemporary virtues. I depict imagined visual narratives and biographies to explore the synthesis of flesh and faith. Similar to my previous solo exhibition, ordinary people in my immediate environment become actors in my allegorical body of work.
Due to the religious and spiritual undertones that can be found in your paintings, would you ever consider your work to be controversial? In light of the multi-cultured South African society, I find there is a high tolerance for religious difference. Therefore I do not think that my latest exhibition is controversial. I would rather call it an affirmation of my cultural heritage, religion and an observational response on modern day life in South Africa. I do not attempt to moralise the viewer, I rather ask questions about our perception of beauty and the importance that mundane objects hold in our consumerist driven society.
In your opinion, how do you successfully combine art and religion? Previously I have stated that the South African constitution embraces religious freedom, and generally spoken, there is high tolerance for religious difference amongst people in the country. Without attempting to force my religious beliefs down people’s throats, I feel confident to live and work by these beliefs. My art is thus a mere reflection of my life and beliefs and would be meaningless without it.
Sandra Hanekom, curator of this exhibition, says ‘Jaco van Schalkwyk is not a visual one-liner… ever’. What does this mean to you? My work is visually complex and multi-layered in meaning. I combine modern day imagery and references from historical artworks or religious texts, encoding information from the greater history of art. The Baroque period, Romanticism, 17th century Protestant allegories and the material manifestations of spiritual magnificence through religious reliquaries, are all alluded to. My work represents pictures as eroded moral puzzles. Don’t miss the launch of Jaco’s exhibition on 24 October at 6pm. The exhibition will run until 5 December 2013. The Barnard Gallery is located at 55 Main Street, Newlands, Cape Town. For more information, visit barnardgallery.com.
Interviewed by Lindi Brownell Meiring