Lovers by Eris Silke, a self-taught artist who has been painting since the age of five.

Danny Shorkend

ERIS SILKE’S enigmatic style – a powerful language employing strong drawing techniques and the use of acrylics and glazes – constitute an unwavering dedication to her art for over four decades.

Her paintings are marked by large eyes that pier out (or in) to the world, relics of innocence, madness, and of another world.

It would be all too easy to simply consign her imagery to a dark, mysterious underworld.

In fact, there are elements of light, meditations on the possibility of other dimensions and the innocence and allure of childhood.

In conversation with the artist, what emerged was an insatiable background filled with significant engagement with major Western literature: Dostoyevsky, Hans Christian Anderson, Tolstoy, Poe, Mann, Emily Bronte and so on.

In addition, her formal background in psychology (rather than the visual arts) is also telling as an influence on her work.

Through her love of literature from a tender age, she then moved into the arts and there are clearly such narrative references, such as to well-known fairy-tales, biblical references and a keen interest and eye for Victorian, Elizabethan England.

Such, what one may call a dreamy romanticism recalls a time when the body was covered (and lace appears often in her oeuvre), here where sexuality is almost taboo, Silke finds solace in the painting process.

She paints because there she is free, without the often difficult confrontation that marks human relationships.

There she can hide, or rather express, chant and sing. And her canvases convey that pleasure: dots that merge, that are pried apart, at once determine shadows or tone, as well as a translucent and brilliant light amidst darker, often graphic contrasts – the stark dance between black and white.

She clearly has taken acrylics and acrylic glaze to a new level, developing “mere” pencil markings to a now succulent, sensual painterly affect, with the odd remnants of colour, neither too much nor too little.

Her method is slow and measured as faces, figures and odd settings are almost theatre-like, where one can hear music and movement, but also the cry of confusion, torment and psychological pain.

Her canvases make reference to the old world, an antique world, where monsters transform, where metamorphosis may transpire. It is a transition from life to death and vice-versa.

In this sense, one may implicate a religious dimension.

Silke gets lost in intricate detail, in ornament and complexity. Yet her line is often pinpoint and captures an innocent, soft feeling. This then is a conundrum: on the one hand, there are sign of cruelty and violence; on the other hand a certain ecstasy and disencumbrance from conscious, serial logic.

Many of her paintings thus reveal that on the one hand we are seeing an almost ghostly, chilling realm, whereas on the other hand, there is a classical celebration of all that is good and true, that which is said to precede the biblical fall, as it were.

Perhaps this is indicative of her influences, to name a few: The artists of the high renaissance, but also the supreme painter of contrasts – Rembrandt; and I would surmise Botticelli and Hieronymus Bosch, as well as the era of the Rococo and Baroque are all seminal influences. Eris Silke tells me that Karin Jarozynska’s (of Finnish origin) work, who had such a powerful effect on her that it was this “confrontation” that motivated here to be a full time artist.

And she has taken that journey, that flight of the soul and continues to “return” with gifts in the form of her paintings.

Locally, she is represented by the Kunskamer and has exhibited in New York.

Her work can also be seen in various private collections.

Her work often exposes the sensual nature of woman as well as darker, mask-like, even violent characters.

Yet in that clash of opposites, light can be extracted from the dark, torment leads to a higher reality and time transforms the self, potentially at least, into realms wherein, although innocence may be no longer, there is the promise of angelic flight, if only we believe in the creative spirit.

On viewing Silke’s work, I am somehow reminded of Munch’s haunting images, of the façade, and yet there is also a hint of Fragonard, a sensual play of bodies and light.

There is thus the lurking possibility that between such an extreme flight of the pendulum, as it were, can either lead to violence or liberation. We live on the precipice of both possibilities – in Silke’s work this harks back to a bygone era, yet remains relevant to the on and off, 0’s and 1’s signal of the new world of light and dark electronic pulses. Her work is very unique and thought-provoking.

l erissilke.co.za