“The material and the construction of the painting is the physical form of an emotional state.”
Jeanne Gaigher creates an illusory sense of movement in her mixed-media artworks by painting with fluid brushstrokes and by attaching layers of semi-transparent painted scrim to her canvases, giving the impression that the shapes in her works are bursting forth into the third dimension. She begins her sculptural paintings by creating a background, and then adds fabric elements that either enhance the imagery or conceal it, creating a sort of ghostly presence on her paintings’ surfaces. In paintings such as The way through Fish Fountain I (2019), wavy strips of cloth covered in curling lines of blue pigment add dynamism to the watery background painted in Gaigher’s characteristic earth tone palette. Gaigher earned her BFA from Stellenbosch University; she held her first solo show in 2015 at SMITH gallery in Cape Town. – Bio from via www.artsy.net
Textile based painting. There is a lot of cutting, sewing and dying involved. Part of it is figurative. It's a relationship between these figures and the terrain within the terrain. The canvas is constructed in a very sculptural, architectural way. Almost like a stage, but it takes on an anatomical feeling, it morphs into the site.
So before I arrived I had finished a lot of big bodies of work. I was actually quite exhausted. I realised that I had to just stop and instead of just obsessively producing which is usually the way I work. Working that way can be very intuitive and you figure a lot of things out by just making and seeing where it goes and then it becomes a reactive process. But when I arrived here I felt that I could take this moment and spend time in the cottage just drawing and reflecting.
If you feel burned out, you should stop. Sometimes your body just tells you to stop, and sometimes you don't have a choice. I manage my practice into different phases of work. There is a lot of drawing in the beginning. If I am tired of painting or cutting, then I can go over into sewing. It's a diverse way of working.
I decided to spend a lot of time inside the cottage, away from the landscape, cocooned almost in my bed as well as at my desk. This is a very beautiful landscape, and I did enjoy walking. It was good to be able to just sit with your own body, I haven't been alone in a space in a long time. And then also, because the work is about expanding on the body's capacity, almost in a supernatural way. So then also just lying in a bed for like a long time and getting to reflect on your own. It's a helpful space to start, reflecting on intimate, personal moments with yourself. And then formulating on how you want to push it into a work or into a different narrative or context.
It is very hard to do nothing. Exhaustion actually pushes you to stop. Doing nothing, I don't think that really exists. It's important to do different things, opposite to what you were doing to be able to understand that and then react to it properly. It can be helpful to be lazy. Because if you're too obsessed with making, making, making, then your brain is too hyper to absorb anything.
I've always been interested in fermentation as well as in composting. I'm interested in references to scientific processes. Because when you think of things physically breaking down, this feeling that it's falling apart. And I think that's also what the paintings feel like. Because they’re flimsy. And they are all these skins. I'm not sure if they're going to start peeling, or if they're going to become solids. I wanted to construct that feeling in the work because I'm interested in transformation. New things can grow in the spaces for new growth.
I want the viewers to feel that it's this very intimate, but also orientating feeling. I want the bodies to feel really dynamic and they are in the midst of transforming into something else and that the body is adapting to this environment, which can feel almost awkward. Also morphing the materials, so you’re not sure is it water, is it a solid? So there's this sense of uncertainty. And there's a lot of hidden information. I want the viewers to feel like these bodies are holding spaces, or housing histories. That they’re these carriers for things instead of being individual characters. All of the figures don't have faces. So they become vessels.
It starts by pulling characters from generic, mundane sources. Then I make figurative drawings as references for bigger paintings. That little step of not directly taking the primary source and using it in the painting is very important, it’s like distilling a figure, and is already in the first phase of alienation. I draw in a very minimal way, so it feels like there's a lot of space to be filled with other stuff. That moment, that feeling when you’re drawing it out, you realise also, why are you interested in it. It just becomes more specific. It’s like you're looking at energy lines.
There are two women sharing this energy source through the navel. In my head, it's a beach scene. So it's just a watery surface. And then there's this boulder-like spine going down in the middle of touching these two pots. I've been enjoying distilling either plant matter, or animals or any of these things into it. They're just like props. But then they almost become these guardians or these like onlookers for whatever's happening. It’s fun to push the viewer to try and read them and understand them, even though extremely bizarre.
I mainly work with two materials through canvas, just the heavier, more solid one. And then there's also a material called scrim or bookbinders mole. And it's a transparent material that I use to add extra layers of information. And it's either used to hide or obscure parts of the painting.
I love sewing. It's one of my favourite things. Just thinking about the scene, then being able to tear it apart, or just add or overlap things. In the end, just like looking at an object that's almost desperately trying to hold itself together. And feeling clumsy but dynamic at the same time. The movement, and the connection, the anatomy and then the clothing.
My work does feel very sculptural, but much more in a flat costume way, but more in terms of layers. It's a flat sculpture. And breaks away from the traditional form painting, which is very important.
I don’t know why I like these colours. There's definitely an earthy undertone to all of it. It changes. At the moment it's very bloody. There's some acid lime for highlights. At this point in time, I'm not really thinking about it too much. It's become instinctual. I ask myself what dystopian colours look like, or colours of views like in a sci fi or because it's like light to me. Like the sky for instance, will never be blue, it will be red. So the same colours, maybe like a fire happening and then the sun's shining through the smoke that kind of undertone of horror in a way in terms of the environment. You do become very committed to your palette.
The painting feels finished. It's a weird moment. And it's always unexpected. It just starts feeling solid. It feels like one thing. Like you look at an environment and there's like a logic to it.
Sewing is very energising. Because there's that level of industry. And it's fast, and it's efficient. And it's a nice contrast to painting, which takes very long. And because I'm so obsessed with details, like many, many marks that you will probably not notice, a lot are unnecessary. That for me is very meditative
This question is very abstract to me but I’m going to answer it in terms of my own practice that relies on material as the language to communicate this ‘moment in time’ which I also see as capturing a mood or an attitude that reacts to their own context or position. It's something you can’t get away from.
The material and the construction of the painting is the physical form of an emotional state. I’m specifically focussed on what it means to transform; the painful, fragile, joyful nature of it. The concept of change and transformation in the paintings play with the idea that physical change should happen first, then mental or theoretical change and new language will follow and grow in a more organic way.
This idea is rooted in the way we need to deal with constantly adapting and changing to our ever evolving and mercurial relationship to politics, our eco-system and also our intimate interpersonal relationships to friends and lovers. I like the idea of a physical language, something supernatural to help the above mentioned relationships thrive on a different plane.
Understanding my intention with my work. It means that the aesthetic outcome of the work isn’t that important. And that’s a big relief for me. Beauty and aesthetic standards are detrimental to having a fulfilling experience to your work and the world in general.