Assume Relaxed Positionby Johnny Mahala / 23.04.2014
Opposite the renovated Athenaeum building on the corner of Belmont Terrace and Bird Street in Central Port Elizabeth, one can buy a rock of crack cocaine within 20 meters of the criminal law court, in full view of the police and prostitutes negotiating on the corner, and the attorney’s offices overlooking the transaction.
These are precisely the kind of events and characters that appear in the paintings of ex-fashion photographer Marc Pradervand, whose exhibition ‘Assume Relaxed Position’ is now showing at The Athenaeum in Port Elizabeth.
The 12 large paintings that successfully dominate the high ceilinged atrium-like gallery are not the usual visual fare that pleases conservative Port Elizabethan eyes. But on opening night, a large, convivial and mostly un-shocked gathering took to this twist on Afro Art Brut like herring to vinegar.
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I almost agree with Rian Malan’s opinion that “Pradervand is ruder than Brett Murray and funnier too.” Pradervand’s work owes an enormous debt to Walter Battiss in terms of his flat silkscreen-like palette and figures corrupted from San rock art sources, but his work has nothing of the po-faced satire and fine execution of the latterly smooth Murray.
Wearing his inspiration and influences on his sleeve, Pradervand paints with no real concern for technique. That’s good in the sense that it liberates him from kowtowing to the art snob’s penchant for “technical excellence” and cuts straight to the mini-dramas played out in signs, symbols and badly drawn big-bollocked boys and perky-breasted girl ciphers treading his boards.
The directness/rawness is both fun and grotesque at the same time. In Muthi Man, a central lampshade and bulb borrowed from Guernica illuminates the horribly twisted mutilated torso of a female figure with red hair. Stage right, a rainbird rock art figure skulks away towards the wings whilst a man-hyena below makes off with the amputated arm in its mouth. Disturbing stuff. And if it wasn’t executed in this naive style it would repulse without pause for reflection.
The entire composition is embraced by two fabulous arms (crab claws/vulture-beaked preacher’s heads) that toy with negative space, force-feeding the drama directly into your eyes.
Elsewhere, the most obvious link to Pradervand’s former life as a professional photographer manifests in The Cocaine Sniffer. This is Pradervand ripping off Catherine who borrowed from Battiss who pilfered from Matisse. Visualise Tretchikoff’s Green Lady stepping out the frame into 2014 wearing spiked patent leather heels spreading her buttocks for the tikolosh of the poppy field. You follow my drift?
The Cocaine Sniffer
Confessional overtones are scarce. Most of the paintings are opinion pieces examining the exploitation of Africa by Europe and China not forgetting looting from within by our own predatory political elite. Pradervand makes images that are easy to consume, but not elementary to decode. His approach is both frank and cynical, yet there is a comedic element that charms you into lingering a while longer.
One might, for example, tally the six blind swallows capering around the head of the pink capitalist devil (inserting its penis into somewhere roughly between Tunis and Cairo) and recognise that here are Pradervand’s references to Shaka’s use of the term “swallows” to refer to the land-grabbing Cape colonists. Jump-cut to today and think AngloGold Ashanti, SABMiller, FirstRand, Massmart, Bidvest and Vodaphone. Pliny’s well-known Latin phrase is adapted to read “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi facincris” – an explicit caption for the obvious.
There are other terrific devices on show. My tip of the day would be “The TV Evangelist” a very interesting painting using softer colours reminding me of Mxolisi Dolla Sapeta’s work. Indeed, the painting is signed in a manner that doffs the cap to this active, (criminally underrated) New Brighton painter recently back from residencies in the USA.
The prices are refreshingly sober and I have no doubt that, should he continue to show the same spirit, possibly tweaking his technical side to become either slicker (or cruder), then this satirical de Buffet of Riebeeck East will be turning up in the pages of respected international art and illustration journals pretty soon.
Suck My Glok
*Assume Relaxed Position is currently showing at The Athenaeum in Port Elizabeth and closes on 25 April 2014.
*Follow Marc Pradervand on Facebook.