Review: How Long is Forever

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Abe Opperman - How Long Is ForeverThere’s something ethereal about entering the Abe Opperman Gallery. It’s situated in the loft of a warehouse-styled building in the middle of the bustling quarter of De Waterkant. And when you close the door behind you on the ground floor, you see only a staircase and a sign. Two flights of stairs later, just before entering the gallery itself, you find yourself on a pretty patio covered in greenery. Immediately, you feel ‘lifted’ out of the manic city life below.

The unique artist-owned gallery, whose Cape Town branch first opened its doors a year ago, displays some of Opperman’s latest works. After his successful first exhibition, ‘Traces of Time’, the Johannesburg-based artist recently announced his new show, entitled ‘How Long is Forever?’.

Browsing through the artwork, gallery visitors experience a visual representation of Opperman’s preoccupation with time and timelessness (as the title of the exhibition suggests), as he observes it in humans, animals, flowers and nature. The artist, who has become known for the whimsical character of his mostly black-and-white paintings, has yet again brought to life a melange of childhood memories and dreams, conjuring up within the onlooker a feeling of longing for something intangible – this undefinable feeling all of us can probably identify with. Pausing to take in the exhibition’s general atmosphere, it soon becomes apparent that there is an inherent sense of slight sadness in even the most cheerful piece of Opperman’s art, emphasising that we are confronted as much by notions of eternal pleasure and endless moments of joy as we are by the fragility and finiteness of being alive.

Some of the paintings – such as the enormous ‘Some Bunny Loves You’ – contain playful, even humouristic ideas, resembling larger-than-life depictions of, perhaps, Alice’s visit to Wonderland. Others seem to be more contemplative. ‘Tsurumi’, a gigantic charcoal drawing on fabriano paper of a cut-off peony stem with a bleeding red ink moon, symbolises Opperman’s beloved Japan. Flowers always seem to make an appearance in Opperman’s work, too – a homage to his ‘other’ passion and job: floristry.

People on swings, a recurring image in Opperman’s work, invite the observer to stop and reminisce. The sibling paintings ‘Clean My Wings’ and ‘Le Lac’, as well as ‘Care Free’ (all acrylic/mixed media on canvas) trigger nostalgia and a yearning for freedom due to the juxtaposition of placing an adult onto an object so closely associated with child’s play. 

However, perhaps the most eye-catching of the art on display are the paintings which diverge from Opperman’s signature monochrome style. His refreshing use of a dominant colour in these provides sheer visual delight. Whether it’s the pastel pink of the flowers in ‘Let the Sun Shine’ (acrylic/mixed media on Belgian Linen), or the deep purple of ‘Purple Reign’ (acrylic/mixed media on canvas), or the magnificent colour-changing lilac and blue of the hydrangeas in ‘No More Monday Blues’ (acrylic/mixed media on canvas) – vivid colours remind us that life is not black-and-white. Instead, the artist shows us that we have endless beauty and colour surrounding us.

It makes one think. If we just extracted and focused on a single colour to appreciate it –  if only for a brief moment – be it in nature, in our home, on the street, in a piece of clothing, or anything else, we would have endless opportunity for wonder. Forever.

Marie Stinnes

‘How Long is Forever?’ is on display at the Abe Opperman Gallery until 31 July 2017. 

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