A raised middle finger to the art establishment

Time of article published Sep 8, 2014

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A selection of 7 monotypes by GEORGINA GRATRIX at Warren Editions until September 23. LUCINDA JOLLY reviews.

“ART is very, very....very serious,” says Georgina Gratrix. There’s a long dachshund with sharp green, zig-zag teeth on a mouth puckering acidic yellow background, a strange bird and vases of blowsy “blomme”. These are some of the pieces that make up the selection of prints by the painter at Warren Editions.

Works by Gratrix were previously seen here last year at the New Church Gallery as part of a group show featuring “satire and irreverence”, Pop Goes the Revolution. Art is very serious was one. Written with a spluttering, split nib in black cursive by an unsure hand on white paper, the mocking words were not only useful as an intro to the prevalent ethos of that exhibition, but also provided the literary equivalent of her visual approach and attitude. Rebellious and ironic.

Gratrix may “love puppies and flowers” unapologetically (and yes we believe she really does). She also paints them unapologetically too. She has also produced portraits of friends with as many eyes as chemically enhanced, germinating potatoes, weird birds and ankle-snapping dogs.

To the untrained eye her paintings are likeable for their apparent spontaneity and simplicity. But for that very same reason they may be rejected by those outraged by their “even a child could-do-it” feel.

Underlying this “politically incorrect” subject matter is the bite and slow burn of serious irreverence, which is probably why she paints them in the first place. Gratrix’s works are a playful, slightly irritated, raised middle finger to the art establishment and the buy- in of its dictates. And to the demanding political and social expectations of the artist. For those who get her irony there is the shared by-product of amusement that such cheek produces.

But the medium of this collection of seven works isn’t painting. Here Gratrix is at play in the fields of ink, messing with the stereotype of the prissy print with her dissident monoprints and a lone rogue woodcut. It’s a medium that’s been around since the 17th century, used by Rembrandt and William Blake and made popular by Jasper Johns in the 1970’s when he printed over his rejected lithographs while waiting for the master printer to print them. Giovanni Castiglione printed the first monotype.

This involved a reduction or subtractive approach called the “dark field”. We can understandGratrix’s attraction to the medium. Especially when it was referred to by author William Jung 20 years ago, as “the bastard child” of the art world. They may have become “the favourite son” but they still cast the shadow of an outsider.

Monoprints involve applying ink onto a flat surface with a roller or a rag for example, and printing the result onto paper .It’s a medium that lends itself to improvisation and celebrates the unexpected, perfect for Gratrix’s painterliness and attitudinal approach.

There’s been a “mess with your head “twilight zone trend involving crossover techniques where one medium mimics another. Take William Kentridge’s trees from the series Universal Archive where what appears to be the gestural qualities of loose limbed brushstrokes of India ink are actually the marks of a painstakingly carved linocut.

Gratrix’s work uses an approach called “the light field” whereby ink is thinned with solvent, an additive process perfect for Gratrix’s various painterly nuances.

Although it may be considered a “painters medium” and perfect for her cream cheese finish surfaces this is actually difficult to achieve in a monoprint. There are other technical challenges, for example how to simulate the smeary powder paint backgrounds suggestive of children’s art work or watercolour bleeds of a flower head which are Gratrix’s signature marks .

This was made achievable in collaboration with Warren Editions’ master printer Zhane Warren. Check it out.

l Call the gallery at 021 461 6070.

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