Review: Anthea Delmotte At Casa Labia

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Portals – a series of portraits of artists and art world figures by artist Anthea Delmotte – is a fascinating take on the South African art world. Artists who may only have been names now become faces and distinct characters, and not only is it intriguing to see who is included but also where they have been painted. Most are in their studios, some in their galleries – all depicted in captivating detail. Delmotte let each experience dictate the form of the painting. “The work creates itself” she says. Inevitably there are more men than women, ditto white artists. And there are few young sitters (Eric Laubscher saw his portrait before he died).

Based in Picketberg, Delmotte had quite a task organizing the sittings. But everyone she approached was eager to help, even curator Stefan Hundt who had no prior warning as Delmotte popped into Sanlam on spec.

Delmotte uses photographs to a degree to help her with her painting. But she is no a slave to the camera and is even a relative newcomer to owning one. The portrait of Emma van der Merwe from SMAC is one of the most successful portraits and Delmotte took just three photos of her, though she also says this was a portrait she couldn’t wait to get started on. Others were harder to crack. It took several meetings with Strijdom van der Merwe before Delmotte was even happy with the decision of where to paint him. They both happened to be working at the same festival when she found him doing an installation in a poppy field which seemed totally right for her portrait of him.

Some of the works have already been snapped up by major South African collectors who already own the work of the artists depicted. Inevitably some of the portraits work better than others. William Kentridge, for instance, is captured beautifully in a sitting that lasted just under two hours (it was scheduled for 15 minutes). Jeannette Unite’s face on the other hand is less successfully portrayed; a bit too formless with none of her sparkle, energy or beauty.

Delmotte is self-taught. She was born in Namibia in 1970 and art lessons didn’t feature at her school. Perhaps this explains her refreshing appreciation and respect for artists and their work, as well as curators, writers, dealers and collectors. One hopes she has enough time and energy to enter the new SPI National Portrait Award so that her gift can be more widely known and savoured.

Recently Delmotte had a solo show of this same body of work at the AVA Gallery (Association of Visual Arts) in the centre of Cape Town; indeed its director, Kirsty Cockerill is depicted at the Casa Labia. The exhibition works particularly well at Casa Labia, which has a growing reputation for contemporary South African art and as a venue for both connoisseurship and collecting. The stunning views of the sea from the gallery are a beautiful counterbalance to the art on its walls, and Delmotte’s portraits look right to be there.

Kate Crane Briggs

Anthea Delmotte’s Portals exhibition can be seen at the Casa Labia until 21 July 2013.

The reviewer, Kate Crane Briggs, organises art experiences – next is the opening night of new operas Two:30 on 13 June in a secret location, with a talk, food and drink included.  Contact cultureconnectsa@gmail.com or call 072 377 8014 for more details.

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