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Lionel Smit - Pendulum




Jul 1 - Oct 2, 2022

“Our human world is like a swinging pendulum,” muses Lionel Smit. “There’s constant flux in our emotional and psychological inner states, even in our physical reality,” he explains with a shy smile. As a contemporary portrait artist, it is largely this [continuously evolving] examination of fluid, amorphous ‘states of being’ which drives the South African painter and sculptor. In Pendulum, Smit’s central preoccupation has been to create visual conversations between classical post-renaissance portraiture and modern expressionism. By doing so, the artist is able to examine and give life to these inner psychological states in new, dynamic ways. The exhibition is primarily comprised of a series of dialogic diptychs reminiscent of photo negatives and their printed inverse. Heavy masculine impasto brushstrokes both challenge and complement the finer feminine forms and figures displayed. Similarly, in his bronze sculptures, we see the thick layering of textures counteracted the intrinsic female gentility of the subject matter. The pendulum swings between these opposing forces to find its own idiosyncratic visual balance. Pendulum thus signifies an overt celebration of duality. An embracing of opposing forces. An ode to contradictions. The dynamic we observe when viewing the collection as a whole is a kinetic visual rendering of an internal discussion Smit continuously engages in with his younger self. As with his other recent exhibitions, the artist confesses a recurring urge to revisit an early fascination with classicism, now using evolved techniques he has come to master over the course of his career. For Smit – there is a deep consideration and breadth of understanding surrounding his own artistic journeying, as well as of the past, present, and future of art during this uncertain era we inhabit. As Smit works, he continuously intuits, explores, and compares. He re-evaluates and refines. He plays. In this collection, we thus witness a return (the pendulum swing) to the delicately rendered depictions of 17th Century portraiture which captured the artist’s imagination in his earliest decades of working as a painter. In Pendulum, this delicacy is even more explicitly juxtaposed through the artist’s counter sway toward abstract expressionism and application of brighter and more striking hues. Image backgrounds and female visages themselves echo the push and pull between opposing forces: blues, pinks, oranges, and yellows show a joyful and unbounded celebration of colour, powerfully contrasted with the realism of Smit’s representation of the female form. In another diptych, the artist plays with more monochromatic tonalities to reveal the intricate dualism that exists even within a more limited palette. This exhibition places contrast, opposites, and contradictions at centre stage and eagerly celebrates them. Contrary forces, as Chinese yin yang philosophy argues, are in fact complementary. A duality retains two essential elements but, unlike a dualism, the two elements are interdependent and no longer separate or opposed, even though they remain conceptually distinct. Explained in terms of physics, Smit’s exhibit sees Newton’s Cradle at play through art. The subjects and styles Smit artfully combines, create an elastic collision of forces. Their merged kinetic energies result in a return to harmony, balance and stasis. From both a thematic and stylistic perspective, Smit audaciously combines centripetal and centrifugal forces that allow for the pendulum to keep swinging. This, after all, governs its internal dynamics. But though intention, discipline, and unfaltering vision, the artist paints his way toward a space of visual equilibrium where these seemingly contradictory forces harmoniously coexist. In Pendulum, the past is in constant conversation with the present, and we are invited to participate on our own terms.

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