Mirror: Dylan Graham and Cobus Haupt
An article written by Ms I. E Stevens
I start by reflecting on the exhibition title, Mirror. In the obvious sense, the two artists, Dylan Graham and Cobus Haupt, reflect each other in some ways: both young, yet established, with many exhibitions held between them, both from the same city and having studied at the same art institution. And indeed, friends. But more than these superficial similarities, both begin with a traditional, one might even say classical, approach to their respective crafts of painting and sculpture. Graham has long produced oil paintings that mirror reality: faces, figures, objects, realistic yet painterly images of the world around him, still lives and portraits, often of a domestic and intimate nature. Haupt sculpts in bronze: mostly female figures, beautifully modelled, on a small and intimate scale, that arise from the western genre of the female nude. One might up to now have used words about their work no longer particularly fashionable in art: beauty, craftedness, traditional, classical.
However, this exhibition is a departure for both artists. They each begin in tradition and realism, holding up a mirror to their worlds, and then the images crack and splinter. Graham still depicts faces, of recognisable people whom he knows, but then they seem to dissolve into paint. The surfaces are thick, layered, pasted and almost modelled, so that image begins to disappear into substance. Tantalizing fragments remain, and the action of painting subsumes the likeness, as does the darkness that emerges from the additive process of making many layers of paint, even clouding colour in shadow. In addition, penetrating the darkness are flashes of white light, as if the person portrayed took a flashlit photograph back at the viewer, or shone a blaze of light out of the painting. So the reality of images is placed in doubt by the physicality of paint and the optical presence of blinding light. The images burn out into the viewer’s eye, and by implication into their space. Tradition dissolves into a philosophical questioning of presences.
Haupt too disrupts his beautiful figures and breaks or collages them into fragments. While some female figures remain whole, other figures are disjointed, broken apart, changed into some one or even something else: female into male, smaller into larger, beauty and monster are patched together. Each piece of body (and violent acts come to mind) is perfectly accurate, but then is seeming surgically taken apart and rejoined in uncomfortable and unnatural juxtapositions. In this small scale world, which strangely simultaneously references ornamental figurines, a person gains a too large face, or has a pair of enormous eyes like ill-fitting sunglasses, a male pelvis counterposes a female torso, while some heads bloom into monstrous twins or doubles. Looking at these sculptures is like looking into a looking glass world of order disrupted by unpredictability and disorder. So if these two artists are creating mirrors, they are mirrors of a world that begins with the familiar but reflects, all the time, the strange and defamiliar.