In the small room at the back of Kalashnikovv Gallery’s new space in Braamfontein, hangs a series of paintings by Lucy Jane Turpin – abstract works of often bright colours suggesting things but not really representing anything discernible; they’re more a record of the artist’s new found love for a medium she’s only recently started experimenting with.
PHOTOGRAPHY: ALON SKUY
WORDS: TYMON SMITH
Turpin who, after graduating from Wits, went on to study photography at the Market Photo Workshop and then obtained her MA from Stellenbosch in drawing, has just returned from a three month residency in Marrakech in Morocco. You can tell from their individual titles that this experience has influenced the series of paintings titled “Touching Time” – “Marrakech Queen, Ode Post Marrakech, The heart of thought post Marrakech.” She thinks that “the whole experience – the space I was living in in the Medina and then travelling around the country, has filtered back into the work, especially the colours.” However this is not the Marrakech of Crosby, Stills and Nash where you’re “looking at the world through sunset eyes,” and “ducks and pigs and chickens call.” If there’s anything discernible that conjures up something of Morocco it’s only in the colours, some of which have been made using pigments obtained from Marrakech. Otherwise there’s not much for the uninitiated to relate to in any specific place, time or figure – rather it’s in the overall feeling that the connection may be made.
For an artist who has spent much of the last few years drawing in charcoal, painting offers exciting opportunities to explore colour, which she sees as something “new and so it’s also trying to figure out how that works.”
The title of the exhibition is reflective of Turpin’s fascination with the physical, sensual aspects of oil paint and her interest in “the weight of paint versus the weigh of charcoal. I’m used to working in charcoal but I was looking for something that feels different because I know how charcoal moves but oil paint has this weight and I’m interested in how it feels when I make work.”
Although the titles of the works may offer a means of entry to the audience, for Turpin, her work is difficult to intellectually explain, relying as it does on an emotional connection between her and the canvas, which continues her approach as an artist who makes “images in a kind of self-generating way so I don’t see what I’m going to paint and it paints itself through making.” It’s obvious though that there’s something about these intensely personal expressions and discoveries of a new medium that appeal to audiences and buyers – two of the works were snapped up at the recent Turbine Art Fair, but while it’s always nice to know that there’s a market, the process still remains something that Turpin is challenging herself to learn. As she admits, “Painting as a form is so vast and also quite scary and it makes me quite uncomfortable because I know how to draw but painting is something that I feel I’m still trying to figure out.”
While Turpin sees her process as “purely experiential,” and completely informed by “how I take in the world and communicate it,“ she’s also keenly curious about how audiences respond to the works. On the opening night of her show she admits that she listened in on viewer conversations and found it “interesting to hear what people physically see in the image.” Of course in works in which the personal art-making process and interaction between the artist and the paint is so paramount, there’s a universe of interpretations open to anyone contemplating the final result, but that doesn’t bother Turpin who firmly believes that “the viewer is important to me and what you see reading into the work is as important as what I see in it but that’s where I step away, I guess.”
She’ll be returning to Marrakech for two months at the end of the year but in the meantime Turpin has started to draw again, this time in graphite rather than charcoal, and feels that the two mediums are “going to start feeding off each other in a way and I think I’ll discover something else through painting that I’ll take back to drawing.” Though she describes the process of painting as “quite isolating because it’s just you and the painting,” she enjoys working in the Marrakech residency because it’s “nice to be around people from different disciplines because there’s always input and feedback as to what I’m doing and making.”
As we wrap our interview, Turpin reflects that perhaps she’s “kind of gone full circle from photography and now back to touching. I think photography for me has a bit of a distance and so for me it’s important to get back to something that’s very immediate but also paint takes time so I have to be very patient with it.”