SMAC Art Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa 01 Aug 2013 - 05 Sep 2013
The first solo exhibition by Johannesburg-based artist Luiza Cachalia, ‘Don’t Jump off Bridge’, comprises a series of portraits of female protagonists in iconic cinematic roles. A low resolution, cropped film-still downloaded from the internet and reproduced serves as the artist’s source material. The selection of images is very specific, focusing on a complex and psychologically charged aspect and moment within the narrative. Cachalia’s stylistic interpretation of the moment critique suspends reality and removes the characters from the context of the film, imbuing them with her own questions surrounding feminine beauty and ‘madness’.
As the title suggests, and in the tone of Almodóvar’s black comedy; Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), Cachalia’s leading ladies are on the brink of emotionally acting out or losing their temper. Repressed and neurotic heroines struggling to cope with the pressures of womanhood could easily be misinterpreted as helpless, hysterical and ‘hormonally irrational’ stereotypes.This perception is heightened by the choice of ultra-feminine, pale-skinned, archetypal Hollywood movie stars, sensitively rendered in delicate lines and toned pastel hues, interspersed with bright flashes of colour. As a granddaughter of the recently deceased, highly revered South African struggle hero and leading woman’s rights activist, Cachalia appears to be challenging the expectations of her audience. Cachalia, however, belongs to a post-political generation of young South African artists and offers a fresh take on traditional feminist themes. Cachalia’s characters are not meant to be deemed as tragic, sad or less stable than a physically domineering ‘superwoman’ in the postmodern 1970s sense of the word. According to Cachalia, ‘getting upset is not backing down…the display of stress, anxiety and sadness should be seen as a protest against conformity, neatness and safe role-playing.’ The paintings on exhibition convey female grace, poise and beauty, which is truly mesmerising as it unravels, heightening their nonconformist vulnerability and melancholia.
This exhibition aligns Cachalia alongside current international female painters and interpreters of contemporary society such as Karen Kilimnik, Elizabeth Peyton and Chantal Joffe. These artists draw on traditions from Alice Neel and Alex Katz – implying and hinting, rather than mirroring reality. Cachalia’s paintings are restrained in only capturing the necessary detail without excessive brushwork. Simple lines, sketchiness and celebrity subjects draw inevitable comparisons to Pop Art. Despite seemingly casual, loose, and random strokes, the paintings contain a deceptively emotional and expressive depth. Distortion, cropping, elongation and an emphasis of the awkwardness within the characters, serve to heighten the psychological effect. Despite the torment and agony, the paled-down, watered-down, vamp-like heroines project a strength within their placid beauty and peacefulness.
Recognizable and famous movie stars in legendary roles make Cachalia’s work immediately accessible to the widest audience. Nonetheless, the subjective selection of precise moments and images coupled with a delicate, sensitive and intuitive adaption of the personae, reveals the artist’s own vulnerability and presence in the work and a personal identification with the subjects. Luiza Cachalia’s paintings are immediately attractive and seductive in a Pop Art vein, yet they contain an ineffable quality and mystique which transcends and endures.