ArtSpoken & Reviews

Arcadia group exhibition at Smith Studio

Marie Stinnes
05/17/2016 14:49:17

Marie Stinnes: These colourful, African landscapes speak loudly and clearly of the harmony evident in the old paintings of ‘Arcadia’, tinged with warm nostalgia.

Smith Studio’s current group exhibition, Arcadia, showcases the works of six contemporary artists: Richard Witikani, Rosie Mudge, Tamsin Relly, Banele Khoza, Ruby Swinney and Talya Lubinsky. Considering that ‘Arcadia’ refers to a harmonious, pastoral landscape – a setting popular with painters and poets since antiquity – it seems an unlikely name at first for this particular group show.

Ranging from abstract paintings of ice landscapes, via prints of neatly drawn graphs and haunting depictions of faces in a crowd, to a solid wooden drawer containing index cards, the diverse works invite visitors to contemplate the term ‘Arcadia’ and its connotation to modern landscapes: What is the modern world’s relationship to landscapes? How do people interpret the term ‘landscape’ these days?

A distinct point of departure for this exhibition is Zimbabwean artist Richard Witikani’s paintings of his homeland. These colourful, uniquely African landscapes (acrylic on paper) speak loudly and clearly of the harmony evident in the old paintings of ‘Arcadia’, tinged with warm nostalgia. ‘Spring’ portrays a familiar yellow grassland backed by old trees in marvellous reds, yellows and greens, whereas ‘Kunzvi Hill’ contains some traditional huts perched in the shadows of some similarly colourful trees, with mountains in the background.

Tamsin Relly’s abstract paintings of ice landscapes and forests are kept in mostly in greens and greys, with frosty white accents, for example ‘Ice Mountain’ (water-soluble oils and gesso on aluminium), ‘Ice Grotto I’ (water-based monotype on Somerset paper) and ‘Greenhouse II’ (water-based monotype on Zerkall). The artist, who recently spent some time in the Arctic Circle in order to witness the effects of global warming first-hand, captures her reaction to this global issue on various types of paper, aluminium, as well as on an impressive giant Mohair Tapestry (‘Business as Usual’), which resembles an underwater volcano erupting in icy waters.

Ruby Swinney’s paintings are immediately eye-catching for the depiction, in many, of Cape Town’s Company Gardens. Using oil on tracing paper, she depicts in intricate detail this green heart of the city which – originally planted to supply fruit and vegetables to passing ships on their way to India – has become a little piece of ‘Arcadia’, providing a welcome escape from the bustling city for its inhabitants. The way that Swinney presents humans, some with flame-like white spheres protruding from their heads (as in ‘Halcyon Dream’ and ‘The Furies Dance’) and others with ghost-like faces (‘Sirenomelia’ and ‘Scorn of the Riverbank’), is both haunting and intriguing – these people exist only fleetingly compared to the landscape surrounding them.

Banele Khoza’s paintings also deal with the more human aspect of modern landscapes. ‘Sunnyside’ (acrylic on canvas) is a colourful abstract depiction of skull-like blotches forming a crowd, and typical elements of city life such as skyscrapers and traffic lights can be seen in the background. Rosie Mudge’s prints entitled ‘Work Work Work Work Work Work (1-5)’ (collagraph on Fabriano Rosapina) depict neat graphs that closely resemble ragged mountain tops, while Talya Lubinsky’s artwork ‘Time-Lines’ contains details of maps held on index cards – a manmade attempt to reduce landscapes into a tidy and containable system.

This group show explores our attitudes to landscape in the context of the ancient notion of an unspoilt ‘Arcadia’. In today’s world of city-dwelling and concrete workplaces, our interaction with nature is often limited to daydreams. This exhibition is a call to interact more closely with that which can rejuvenate our souls, if only we can learn to conserve and protect it.


Arcadia runs at Smith Studio, 56 Church St, Cape Town from 10 to 28 May 2016.


Marie Stinnes
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Related Venue:
SMITH, 56 Church Street Cape Town Western Cape South Africa