After Gracelandby Sean O’Toole / 04.12.2009
Sanell Aggenbach, the Cape Town painter with a gorgeously restrained palette of mostly corroded blues and greens, recently visited Graceland, as in the home of Elvis. She was in the US on an artist’s residency with her husband, Mister Aggenbach. (You may know him better by his public alias, Brett Murray.)
One day the pair took a train to Memphis. The visit left a deep impression. Aside from making a painting that incorporates a reference the King’s Midwest version of the Taj Mahal, Sanell has titled her current exhibition, on at 44 Stanley Avenue’s Gallery AOP, Graceland. Elvis aside, I’m guessing big boobs are on her mind lately. Sanell recently had a child, her first. “Lola came in on Friday, October 16 at 7:30. Small but full of shit,” read a proud email from Mister Aggenbach.
Hey, don’t worry: Sanell’s show isn’t another one of those exhibitions about motherhood and the onset of middle age. She finished all the works before Lola arrived. There are a couple of pieces worth pausing on: the etching Atlantis, for example, which shows a tattooed torso ala Conrad Botes; also a trio of rather sullen portraits featuring the old Republic’s presidents.
Looking at “Slim Jan”, “DF” and “HF” – the good, the bad and the ugly, respectively – I was reminded of Anton Karstel’s recent portraits of dead presidents. What’s up with young Afrikaans painters and their interest in yesterday’s people? Max du Preez, that perennially quotable Afrikaans lefty, offers a possible answer in a pop ditty he penned for Sanell’s catalogue, which has been lovingly designed by Gabrielle Guy.
Max’s song starts as a dirge. “I can hear Aggenbach’s artist’s voice clearly because I am also a child of the volk, of the white tribe of the furthest south. God’s Chosen People, remember?” His chorus though is more upbeat. “She makes me miss my granny, the one who told me horror stories of the British concentration camps every day.” All together now: “She makes me miss my granny…”
Yup, we’re swimming around in the porridge of history here. In case you miss this stumbling around the gallery after a drunken long lunch next door, take a look at the painted mild steel crest with its motto borrowed from the title of Rian Malan’s famous book. Personally, I’m not all that sold on this work. It looks too much like Mister Aggenbach’s work.
Okay, so I’m hanging for a tidy conclusion here. I’ll speak plainly. Go see Sanell’s show, which is on until December 10. You won’t be disappointed.