Johannesburg

12 February - 18 March 2022
Zander Blom
Monochrome Paintings

STEVENSON is pleased to present Monochrome Paintings, Zander Blom's tenth solo exhibition with the gallery.

The artist writes:

A tide of calm has washed over the studio. This was no doubt brought on by a return to abstraction and a drastic reduction to my colour palette. In the last year the studio has transformed from a cacophony of anxious colours and textures to a more focused, harmonious unity. I was in a fever dream of monstrous portraits, creepy figures and ridiculous creatures populating a light-hearted yet menacing world. I was knee-deep in that feral swamp, and very attached to the intellectual project (see The Garage-ism Manifesto), when a shift occurred in the studio. A new possibility had opened up because of a compelling technique that emerged. It was begging to be fleshed out and developed further but necessitated a complete shift in direction. Initially I kicked and screamed against it, but in the end the temptation was too great and the objections too hackneyed. Now gentle gradients, confident shapes, intricate details and ecstatic yet violent brushwork abound in waves of monochrome. It’s not exactly maximalism to minimalism but you get the idea. I’ve effectively made a U-turn back to some kind of stripped down yet complex form of abstraction. But this time I’ve returned without guilt or shame, without feeling the need to insert any kind of ironic gesture, knowing wink or critique of modernism from my 21st century armchair.
Although I’m not overtly looking to unpack modernism anymore, it remains one of my key references. For example, I’ve been finding inspiration in black and white photographic images of modernist sculpture, and many of these new works are simply studies of what is possible in terms of form and composition with the new techniques. I am also looking at photography in general for inspiration: historical, documentary, astronomical, geographic, etc, with the intention of building a world unto its own. In a sense it’s a pity that abstraction is so bound to the legacy of modernism; at a glance one could easily describe many of these new works as straight-up classic abstraction, with a little bit of geometric abstraction sprinkled over here and a lot of gestural abstraction dolloped over there. Sometimes history is all we can see, and then modernism becomes a dead albatross around every abstract painter’s neck. This kind of reductive notion is not very helpful so it’s been put back in the box where it can’t discourage the sprouting seedlings from finding their own way.
It's not just peaceful in the studio, it’s also exciting because these works are fun to make. Not to say they don’t come with their challenges, but there is flow and pleasure to the everyday process that is a real gift. The basis of the new techniques involves oil paint (diluted with linseed oil and turpentine) applied thinly with brushes to primed linen. The paint is then worked into with rubber and silicone utensils, which essentially erases the oil to varying degrees, revealing the surface of the canvas. This allows one to get incredible tonalities, textures and depth without resorting to impasto. The simplicity of it is a joyous relief. The texture of the oil paint on the weave of the linen reminds me of the grain of black and white film, giving my dripping and curling shapes the feeling of being snapshots frozen in time. Often images look like they could be digital renderings because of the crisp three-dimensionality that is suddenly possible. Solid organic masses twisting, turning, contorting, yet suspended floating in space. It’s peculiar – I’ve had a push-pull relationship between figuration (or representational painting) and pure abstraction for years, and yet these new works that are so firmly rooted in the abstract have a strong figurative suggestiveness.
Having to find new tools has led me to scouring shops for anything made from silicone or rubber. It’s astounding what effects one can get with something as simple as a silicone baking mat or a rubber mallet. If you drag a piece of silicone with even a slightly raised pattern or ridges through the paint, it can create beautiful waves with parallel lines running through them like the lines in sedimentary rock formations, concentric circles in a tree stump, or patterns in gemstones like lace agate.
I work with different mixtures of black paint. Some are more blueish black, others reddish black, etc. This gives subtle variations to the warmth or coldness of the grey gradients, and helps give the paintings a little kick or pulse of life since pure lamp black tends to be a bit dull and flat. Because of the heavy use of linseed oil, halos of blue or yellowish brown will often bleed around the edges of the black shapes, indicating the dominant colour in the black. Ironically within this monochrome setting, this is perhaps the most subtle my colour palette has ever been.
The seductiveness of these techniques made me apprehensive at first. Because the work flowed so freely and was so satisfying to look at, I was suspicious of it. But I realized that a big part of painting is about visual tricks employed in smart ways. There should be no shame in tricks. And if something is really flowing beautifully in the studio, who am I to thwart it? After all, aren’t simple or effective uses and combinations of materials and techniques the holy grail of painting? How else would one ever hope to become a practitioner of alchemy? Regardless, one can doubt, criticise, intellectualise, and speculate until the end of time. The only answer that I’ve ever found actionable is to trust what your hands want to do no matter what your head is saying, and get back to work.

The exhibition opens on Saturday 12 February, 10am to 1pm. The artist will give a walkabout of Monochrome Paintings on the day of the opening at 11am. Entrance is free and all are welcome.