Joni Brenner: Indelibly 2012 (Oil on Marble: 30.5 x 30.5 x 2 cm)
Joni Brenner: Indelibly 2012 (Oil on Marble: 30.5 x 30.5 x 2 cm)
Image: Supplied

Joni Brenner’s extraordinary solo exhibition at SMAC Gallery in Parkhurst is based, as she discusses in the elegant catalogue for the show, on the idea of a durational, or time-based, encounter with her models.

In this case such an encounter lasts the entire length of her career as a practising artist, going back to the early 1990s.

Her four models are all male, and occupy different roles in her life. She details how the early portraits of Wilson Mootane, her first sitter at her Wits studio, grew into an engagement with “the issues that hover around portraits” — in other words the lives and circumstances that the portraits elide, that don’t appear in the finished paintings but are implied by the presence and the being depicted in the paintings.

In drawing on this context at the outset of the exhibition, in relation to what was historically her first sitter, Brenner intelligently situates this body of work in the context of the portrait genre historically.

Portraits as a genre are almost as old as the painting medium itself, and have throughout history been about various aspects of the subject depicted — social status achieved or aspired to, character studies, even the destruction or deconstruction of the idea of the subject itself, for example, in the work of Francis Bacon.

Joni Brenner: Still 2009 (Oil on Marble: 30 x 30 x 3 cm)
Joni Brenner: Still 2009 (Oil on Marble: 30 x 30 x 3 cm)
Image: Supplied

Brenner’s body of work here is thus not only a meditation on the series of male subjects being looked at over time. It is also a means of reflecting on the nature of time and its effects on the subjects, as well as a means of drawing in the social and other circumstances that exist outside both subject and frame. The portraits are also about the contract and the bond of looking — the subjects are looked at, but often return that gaze, both to the artist and the viewer.

An interesting and unavoidable aspect of the show is the position of each subject in the life of the artist. The first sitter, Mootane, is in an institutional context, that of Wits where the artist still teaches. Fred Glick is a collector of the artist’s work. Scott Hazelhurst is her husband, and the portraits of Charles Bothner began life as a commission, developing into a long-term arrangement.

Joni Brenner: Sunk 2009 (Watercolour on Sandstone: 30.5 x 30 x 3.5 cm) LR (Wilson Mootane)
Joni Brenner: Sunk 2009 (Watercolour on Sandstone: 30.5 x 30 x 3.5 cm) LR (Wilson Mootane)
Image: Supplied

The position of each in the artist’s life offers an implied relationship in the round with the entire body of work, encompassing different aspects of her practice and different relationships with her sitters. The many different aspects and details of each subject that Brenner paints are done so with thick, textured, intricate brushwork in a deliberately muted palette, which serves to draw the viewer closer, seeking out recognisable details and humanising the atomised subjects.

The presentation of the work is enhanced by the creation of a wide range of framing and canvas, from plinth-like vertical stands which act almost as mirrors reflecting their painted subjects outwards to the viewer, to small, intimate canvas offering detailed views.

Joni Brenner: Spock 2019 (Oil on Marble_20 x 20 x 2 cm) LR (Charles Bothner)
Joni Brenner: Spock 2019 (Oil on Marble_20 x 20 x 2 cm) LR (Charles Bothner)

It’s rare in the local art scene to take in a show of this quality and insight, and one so beautifully considered and presented. A must-see!

www.smacgallery.com

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