Cape Town

4 February - 11 March 2023
Deborah Poynton

STEVENSON is pleased to present Vertigo, a solo exhibition of new work by Deborah Poynton. 

The artist’s 13th exhibition with the gallery, Vertigo comprises oil paintings on canvas and drawings on black paper. Poynton continues her exploration of the vagaries of perception through detailed scenes that encompass genres of portraiture and still life, while disavowing both. The images in Vertigo are at once seductive surfaces and existential mediations, focused on the ambiguous contours of consequence and meaning. Poynton writes: 

I am overcome by vertigo.
Vertigo is the dizzying knowledge that I will die, while acting as if I won’t.
It is the unbridgeable gulf between this moment, now, upon which I teeter, and the infinite moments before and after.
It is the jarring divide between the fantasies in my mind’s eye and the hominid of flesh and bone that is me.
It is the unease I feel as I seek heaven on earth, while destroying this earthly heaven.
Clinging to all this meaning and denial, purpose and inertia, my head is spinning. There is nothing below me. I can’t look down to save my life.
Instead, I creep into the safe embrace of images. I tether myself to illusions and ever so slightly release my grip. Perhaps, If I stay here long enough, I will be able to open my eyes.

Across the paintings Poynton addresses concepts such as empathy, mortality and vulnerability. In tandem with her visual speculations, the artist provides short texts for each work, balancing enigma with poetic candour.

About Vertigo, the work from which the exhibition takes its title, she says: ‘The canvas is a taut, billowing space, pinned down by illusion’, and she extends this uncertainty of apprehension throughout the exhibition. Deep distortions of perspective and overtly fictional compositions are juxtaposed with her characteristically realist rendering to foreground questions of perception.

Meaning and Purpose, the large-scale triptych central to this body of work, features a cluster of individuals, ranging across age groups, racial categorisations and aesthetic expressions. Of this tableau of human connection, she says, ‘We feel empathy, we are kind, we are anxious, we have nothing but each other, we feel alone in the crowd. We continue to hope.’ This observational mode is carried forward in Poynton’s grid of pencil drawings, for which she writes:

There is something tactile and gentle about drawing, the soft scraping of pencil over the fibrous paper, slowly teasing shapes out of the darkness, then bringing them to life with the tiniest sparkles of bright white. It is as if I am simply uncovering what is there already, lifting a veil to reveal the truly magical world, and our curious place within it.

Vertigo follows the artist’s major survey, Beyond Belief, at the Drents Museum, Assen, in 2021, and Folly, with works drawn from the survey, at Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin, in 2022.

The exhibition opens Saturday 4 February, 10am - 1pm. Poynton will give a talk on her exhibition during the Cape Town Art Fair on Saturday 18 February from 11am, and a walkabout for the Friends of the South African National Gallery on Saturday 4 March at 11am.