“I often find myself in the landscape where I walk. And in that process, there is already an active eye busy. So the idea of allowing that, to consider what kind of work one could make in a radically different space like this was very interesting and exciting. I love going into slightly strange spaces to see how that shifts one's process.” 

Maja Marx on her recent artist-in-residence experience at Twee Jonge Gezellen.

Maja Marx, Artist

Maja is a South African contemporary proponent of abstract art; approaching painting as an optical activation of surface. She has featured in both South African and international exhibitions. We caught up with her to find out more about her ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE experience.

“When I was offered this opportunity, it was interesting then to think of what kind of making one would facilitate in a space like this: because there's such a strong language of things being produced here. So there's a slow process, there's the landscape, there's the growing, there's the fermentation, there's that whole transcription really, of one material, essentially into another. 

“Think of that, the raw materiality of something as simple as a plant, and how it ends up being translated into something that has a taste quality, some sort of olfactory language to it, that it can change how we think about things, that there's a language to it, that's really quite close to art making to me.” 

Maja Marx at the base of the Saronsberg Mountain

How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it?

As an artist I think I filter my environment as I as I move through it. Essentially, that's why I make art. I see art as a kind of a viewfinder, a sympathetic actuator. It activates simple things, super ordinary things, whether it's a piece of cloth lying in a certain way, or a pattern or a book. Pattern and line are definitely things that draw me closer. 

I tried to find that moment where I can look at an object and I acknowledge that it is maybe a composition of flowers or a combination of twigs or bits of grass lying in a heap. I'm trying to allow myself to see it as something that is at the same time that, but also beyond that. Something that carries a mark in its own right. 

So with this specific work I allowed myself to enter the landscape of Twee Jonge Gezellen. I went for a series of walks and I very specifically decided to approach the mountain as something that I observe, but that I can also enter.

And this painting started off as a reaction to the walks then and the bringing back of a bodily experience. Then as you’re busy painting, that mountain draws you back into that landscape again and again and with each visitation the landscape is slightly different and the return to the painting is also different.

What role does time and space play in your work: going from your busy life to this quiet space. Do you feel like this piece that you were working on is kind of a mark of this time, the crystallisation of it?

Time is hugely important in my work. There’s a kind of a slowing down of time, when I work… I think the word fermentation can be applied. It's a gradual buildup. So I start off with a set of rules really, for myself. And that's almost like a scaffolding I have that builds towards a moment where I let go of that. And there's a kind of a freer, more independent flow of line or mark making. 

There’s a long tradition of female work, or craft that is closely related to a kind of a meditation, where it’s an active headspace. I have long conversations in my studio. I don’t speak out loud, I promise. But there’s an active conversation happening. And it fascinates me how a day can disappear. You've had a super active engagement with perhaps three-square centimetres, and there is this super zoom in. I love how I can lose myself in the surface of something that is essentially a piece of linen, pigment and oil.

There’s a slow down of time that happens here. It's quieter, it's peaceful, and you wake up with a different kind of intensity.

Maja Marx in the yellowood forest on Twee Jonge Gezellen


Do you predetermine the size of the work?

A large work is not automatically more difficult; I actually find smaller work harder. It has to do with a kind of space in your mind that it occupies. And I think what has happened to me over lockdown is I've realised, the larger works are almost more gestural. There's this thing of going up close, and then leaving it again. And if it happens on such a large scale, it really has the potential for some sort of reaction to whatever mark or colour combination preceded, it becomes much more evident. 

With this work, there's a split that happens because it consists of two panels. I really enjoy this, this kind of symmetrical manner of talking back to the body as a symmetry as something that carries both a left and a right hand action. There’s almost like a numbness to the side that is more passive. And I love exploring that. 

What do you mean by gestural work?

There's a totality of gesture. It's exactly that thing of when you climb or when you crawl through spaces, or in the landscape: when you walk with that kind of left-right foot action with your hips, your shoulders; like the structure behind it becomes more important.

It's amazing to be able to compare two hands with one another. There is also the idea of the phenomenological, where there is almost a super presence or an awareness to the one side of the body, and a kind of a weaker, slightly less focused, intuitive aspect to the other side of the body. 

So often in my work, I will have two works that will sit in relation to one another. They almost function as two resting points for my eyes. And of course, in reality, I look at them with both eyes. But I like to acknowledge that it's possible to imagine that I'm looking at the one with the left side, and the other one with the right side. So it's bodily.

Maja Marx in the yellowood forest on Twee Jonge Gezellen


You’re known to paint in between spaces, not necessarily having a central focus towards a fixed compositional marker, but that you almost impulsively work towards things of almost working independently, like your body is not a centralised unit. 

The in-between matters, essentially, what the painting is all about. When I paint I will have a kind of a reversal of a foreground background exploration. It happens in a very intuitive manner, like a veil. A veil, is something that shields, it's something that obscures but also allows certain bits of information to still be revealed. 

I'm very interested in that kind of filtering, like a kind of a system of concealment and revealment. I'm not that interested in just looking only looking through the veil. I often talk about a middle place, it's a kind of a space that irritates the eye, you want to acknowledge it and then look deeper into it. 

With the traditional approach to compositional painting there is something for your eyes to perch on, as visual beings, we desire that perch. We take a breather. We sit on it with our eyes, as a bird that would want to sit on something. It’s a moment for rest.

And with my work, I never allow that. When I paint, I'm actively looking. 

The ability to create discord in your visual plane where you think, what am I actually? 

Exactly. If you remove the perch, then it's no longer important, you can almost look into it rather than find one position. So when people look at the work, I think abstraction is sometimes difficult for people because you want to find a form, you want to find a place for your eye to be comfortable in. 

Take us through your process?

I start with limitations, when you start off with a large work it's a broad neutral kind of space that you respond to. I start with some marker that activates the surface for me. The initial stages will be really quite analytic. Sometimes when I work with, let's say, patching, or textual references, I like to almost look at it in the same way that one would look at a text. I will read it and translate it and I will start in the way that you would with text, top left. 

I'm not reading text, I'm reading lines, and quite often it is very dense, very abstract, perchance lines. So I allow my eyes to really decipher and create some sort of map for something that is almost impossible to decipher. I get huge joy from that. It's a super focused state. And then that allows me to go to almost into a kind of a meditation. And the repeat of that process, a constant of some sorts in the way that you would also measure things or calculate things or count things. There's a level where the mark is no longer just a direct transcription of a referent, which might be a pattern or piece of cloth or lines on a gridded piece of paper, it's not so much about that, I merely use it as a kind of an excuse to, to activate the flow of line. There's a way of looking through the line. 

Maja: As a female artist, I think is important to find the moment where you are in a pure conversation with yourself in whatever context you can, as a woman, as a mother. I’ve actually been more productive since having children than before, since having my daughters, an hour is not just an hour.

You can do an amazing amount of work in an hour. My mother's an artist and one of my earliest memories is sitting on my mother's back while she was painting. And I cherish that memory because I do think how amazing that I have this connection to my mother's creative joy through the movement of her body, not vacuum cleaning, or washing clothes, but painting. I gave the same thing to my babies.

This website uses cookies. By continuing
to use it you accept our use of cookies.