Muse is the inspiring theme of the group summer exhibition at Casa Labia, a grand home built in 1929 for the Count and Countess Natale Labia, complete with chandeliers and a sweeping staircase. The exhibition is grouped loosely around the themes of landscape, portrait and still life.
The Muses – the nine daughters of the Ancient Greek god Zeus – were the personification of knowledge and the arts. They inspired creation in artists, poets and writers.
With so many diverse voices and so much artistic expression on show, I turned to Cate Wood Hunter, the gallery director and resident curator at Casa Labia, in order to pinpoint a common thread running through the pieces she had chosen.
The fact that the exhibition is so broad, Cate explained, is exactly the point. The Casa Labia’s intention is to inspire the South African public to engage with art. Many people are intimidated by the fine arts and are shy to judge an artwork for fear of their reaction being perceived as ‘wrong’. By showing so many different forms of art, Cate’s aim is to bridge that gap.
A noble aim, but has she succeeded? Clearly, with such a broad canvas there are going to be artworks that don’t appeal to everyone, but it could be argued that if just one piece ‘speaks’ to a viewer then the exhibition as a whole can be deemed to be a success.
The variety of materials on show is astounding. ‘Vertebral’ is a series of three abstract photographs by Oliver Barnett, which are mirrored to form delicate patterns of pastel hues reminiscent of Rorschach’s ink blot tests.
Adjacent are Rae Hearn’s ballpoint pen-on-paper etchings, ‘Extreme Landscapes’, and Ronel de Jager’s oil and mixed media, monotone abstract shapes. The work is linked by landscapes, some internal perhaps, that the artists were inspired to explore.
Cathy Stanley’s work is intriguingly entitled, ‘Did I get some of them?’ – a quiet and beautiful white and golden abstract creation of paper, stitching, rust and acrylic on canvas.
Willemien de Villier’s ‘Before the Beginning’ continues the theme of working with stitching – hers on found and altered cloth, whilst Nadja Daehue uses blackboard paint and acrylic to adorn her cloth canvas.
Other artworks include resin and Chinese ink on newspaper, ceramic heads, and a bronze landscape by Leanne Shakenovsky in glitter and glue.
One particular part of the exhibition spoke to me. It was not just one piece, but a skillfully curated grouping. United by their palette of muted greys and greens and perfectly complemented by the pale mauve wall on which they hang, are two porcelain plates by Christina Bryer and paintings by Ronel Human and Diane Mclean.
Although different in media and subject matter, Harris Steinman’s photographs and painter Katherine Spindler’s series ‘At Sea’ are united by their common theme of landscapes. Steinman’s ‘Figments’ is a group of four photographs of seemingly mundane neighbourhood scenes, suffused with the eeriness common to his work. Acidic, fluorescent lights pierce the darkness and the lack of human figures results in a feeling of alienation.
Where the very stillness of Steinman’s images creates a disturbing, haunting presence, Spindler’s series of stormy, grey skies and turbulent waves, despite the subject matter, are strangely calming. Perhaps it is the absence of detail and colour – misty, abstract swirls of white and black creating dove greys and dark shadows. Or perhaps it is that, unlike in Steinman’s images, the viewer in these paintings is entirely irrelevant.
As Cate explained, “The muse stimulates our creative powers. And so we invited artists to submit work that truly inspired them.” And just as the muse inspires the artist to create, so in turn the artwork inspires the viewer – and a circle of inspiration begins.
The Muse Exhibition runs at the Casa Labia until 23 February.
Samantha Reynolds is a travel writer and photographer, and more of her work can be found on her blog, Travel and Photography – Golden Dreams.