UNCHARTED TERRITORY : a solo exhibition by Karen Wykerd
Opening reception: 12 June 6.00 till 8.00pm
Guest speaker: Claude Chandler
12 - 29 June 2019
50 Buitenkant Street, Cnr Roeland & Buitenkant Street, Cape Town.
Gallery hours: 10 - 5pm Mon to Friday, 10 - 1pm Saturdays
or by appointment
As humans, we are not provided with maps to our lives. Our animal instincts are non-existent or largely irrelevant in this age. So we turn instead to outside resources for guidelines: psychology, sociology, religion, biology and art.
In her upcoming solo exhibition ‘Uncharted Territory’, Karen Wykerd uses art to navigate her own life and encourage us to boldly explore our own. The new body of work includes her recognisable city imagery, as well as intricate embroideries, and paintings layered with hand-marbled paper.
Wykerd began painting her cityscapes as a way to acquaint herself with her new home city, after moving from Johannesburg to Cape Town. Operating in an uncertain world, the canvases provided a method of simply getting to know the area, by viewing and interacting with it from her own particular perspective. Now comfortably familiar with the Mother City, Wykerd is deviating from the known paths and everyday routes to explore what cartographers call ‘sleeping beauties’ – the blank spaces of uncharted territory on a map.
Wykerd’s use of unfamiliar techniques to create this body of work is also an exploration of new terrain, and a means to gain fresh insight into established themes. While the marbling resembles the carefully delineated contours of a map, for example, it is actually highly unpredictable. Created spontaneously through chance and manipulation at a remove, the control of the outcome is much less than with the considered mark-making of painting.
Chance is what has been driving Wykerd’s recent work because, as she quotes frankly, “If you want something you’ve never had before, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” The scenes in this collection are the result of her determined but spontaneous pursuit of light and its transformative effect on the urban landscape, and how this landscape can be understood.
Perception, and the alteration of perception, is at the core of ‘Uncharted Territory’. A shift from vertical to horizontal perspective can either increase or decrease the amount of visual information available. A panorama glimpsed in the distance becomes something completely different when viewed close-up (as Wykerd’s embroideries appear to be a cohesive image from afar but, when viewed more closely, can be distinguished as tiny individual stitches of different threads). A building concealed in shadow on one side is transmuted by sunlight on the next corner. The erratic winds of Cape Town can change the city’s mood in moments (as anyone who’s been caught unexpectedly without a raincoat will know). Wykerd captures these observations first by camera and then in pigment or thread, and uses them to build up a ‘map’ of the city. The human mind creates maps to better understand the world through the process of abstraction – the removal of unnecessary or irrelevant information.
What Wykerd captures of Cape Town (and leaves out) says as much about her as it does about the city itself. She negotiates architectural principles and the actual randomness of lived experience by balancing her canvases between strict geometry and soft dissolution. Figures populate the scenes only at a distance, with their faces turned away or indistinguishable. In a city as busy as Cape Town, it is perhaps ironically easy to feel alone in the crowds. The city is not, however, an unlovely or melancholy place. Wykerd transforms the greys of concrete and tar into rosy warmth or vivid green, romanticising the grimy reality, and reminding us of the abundant nature we sometimes ignore, which is such a fundamental part of this city, lying as it does between mountains and sea. The interstices of walls and windows dissipate towards the edges of the works; nothing can ever be known or defined in its entirety.
By interspersing an overarching vision of the city with quiet meditations on individual scenes, Wykerd mimics the paths of life, where our intentions are waylaid by happenstance. The unexpected can push one’s awareness in a new direction, giving rise to fresh and deeper understanding, as well as acceptance. Losing one’s way has always been, after all, about finding one’s self.