The Studio Visit

Living, witnessing and seeing during the COVID-19 pandemic, has without one’s choice, brought on new subversions and inversions into how we do things. To visit a painter’s studio amidst this pandemic, makes the pleasure of viewing traditional media even more poignant and visceral. Going up close to see the tonality of a stitched cotton canvas, to smell the fresh swathe of oil paint in an experience beyond any digitized online catalogue image.

There is undoubtedly a reality in an artist’s studio far beyond any museum or gallery experience. One is entering the lair or inner workings of the artist’s ambit, in this scenario- the Cape Town painter, Swain Hoogervorst, who for the better part of the 2010s devoted much of his time, life and soul to the medium of paint.

Within the genre of still-life painting, Hoogervorst timeously deconstructs this iconography through his tracing of forms within the pictorial plane. The painting is in a state of flux, as is the viewer, and the world as it transitions during a pandemic.

Whilst walking through Hoogervorst’s spacious attic studio overlooking the Table Bay docks and the rump of Lion’s Head, my eye catches an abstractecd form. Is it the fallen petal of a coral hibiscus flower? Or a pound of pork flesh? No, it is the soaked painter’s cloth crumpled on the floor. A celebration of the mundane, everyday object. Above this abstracted reality are the words of motivation: ‘Paint — even on the bad days’.

Hoogervorst’s practice has moved into a new arena: that of the domestic interior. This is an aspect of the artist that I admire. He is willing to take risks and to break out of the mould of a signature style. As a painter, he re-imagines and reinvents his modus operandi.

A chair with roller wheels with a white board placed on the chair with a vase of flowers contextualized against a bold scarlet red interior wall. This bouquet of flowers is echoed and reflected by the hanging picture of a plant against a window. This evokes a surrealistic encounter for the viewer is unsure as to whether this is an actual plant or whether it is a meta-painting narrated into the interior? Paint bleeds from the meta-painting, symbolic to the bleed of time within a pandemic where one finds days bleeding into each other.

A further interior includes an assortment of physical objects haphazardly placed on the artist’s table and window sill. These tenderly blurred objects bleed liquid, almost like vessels with cavities, enabling the stored liquids to ooze from within. This evokes a reading of ‘leakages’ from within. Some paint drips down over the table and onto the magnifying glass, a symbol of seeing and looking. There is a lucidity in Hoogervorst’s style evinced through the limited use of hardlines and edges. These objects are figuratively melting, as does one’s time amidst a lockdown. When it comes to our health perhaps objects and material completely melts away as we contemplate what matters most to us — our health and well-being.

Whilst we don’t physically see the artist applying paint to canvas, we do gain insight into the subconscious process of painting in the way that the artist formulates his encounters with objects.

Amidst the turmoils of an airborne virus and a hyper-sensational image economy, there is a refreshing return to real substance inside Hoogervorst’s studio. Throughout these bizarre and uncanny times, painting and substance survives.

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