With the first solo exhibition in Italy by Jeanne Gaigher (Cape Town, 1990), Osart Gallery continues its investigation of the most interesting figures on the contemporary South African artistic scene. Taking her cue from a reflection on the traditional format of the painting and its canvas support, Gaigher explores the expressive potential of materials and their textures. She uses fabric, gauze, painting and drawing to construct works that relate the tensions between the body and its context, staging dreamlike, surreal narrations in which the female body takes centre stage.

Gaigher moves nimbly between figurative and abstract, focusing on the hybrid areas. The size and shape of the chosen surfaces change with the subjects; becoming one with them and growing in unforeseen directions. The structure of the support and that of the anthropomorphic figures – or anatomical details – amalgamate: blending into one another, and in some cases literally being stitched together. The bodies are propagated through trajectories and lines of energy, without defined contours.

At the moment, I am particularly interested in the anatomy of the canvas itself - the construction of the substrate that the image is painted on. I use the word ‘anatomy’ in relation to the surface, which is built up with layers of curved canvas shapes, stitched together, mimicking the silhouettes of organs and limbs. It has a pseudo-symmetry. Anatomy also changes – these canvas ‘bodies’ grow.

Gaigher’s evocative palette recounts the exchange between figure and context: her chosen colors range from ‘cold viridian’, red iron oxide and black, through to the burnt syrup of wildfire smoke covering the sun. These marks and colors stained onto the materials become built up residue on the figures and the terrain they inhabit.

The settings portrayed are more a reflection of the subconscious dimension of ‘imaginary rooms’ than actual places. Here scale warps; the miniscule coexists with the colossal/monstrous. This three-dimensionality is crucial: the layering of materials recreates the density of air, or ripples of water, or in most cases unrecognizable organic matter mimicking compost, in which the subject appears to be immersed. Together these paintings sit as situations that reflect on the often disconcerting and disorientating state of chrysalis.

Jeanne Gaigher completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Stellenbosch University in 2012. In 2017, Gaigher received the Index Artist in Residence Scholarship at Freira- Stipendium in Zurich, Switzerland. In 2018, Gaigher presented her solo exhibition, Century’s View, at SMITH in Cape Town, South Africa. Further solo exhibitions include Wieg and Club at SMITH in Cape Town, South Africa in 2016 and 2015 respectively. Gaigher’s works have been included in notable exhibitions and art fair presentations including: Another Antipodes / Urban Axis Exhibition in Perth, Australia in 2017 and SMITH’s presentation at Also Known As Africa Art Fair in Paris, France in 2016. Recent group exhibitions include Gather and A Show of Solidarity, both at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town in 2020; The Female Line at SMAC Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa in 2019; Close Encounters at SMITH in Cape Town, South Africa; and SMITH’s presentation at Investec Cape Town Art Fair in Cape Town, South Africa, both in 2018.

Gaigher draws from a broad reservoir of references – foreign and local - but consistently bases her thinking around place relative to her own presence in it. Thus a distant, mesmerising outer world becomes intimately her own. She is interested in the fluidity of subject matter, and how, through the act of painting, she can expand an object’s meaning.