Claudette Schreuders: Great Expectations

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28 FEBRUARY – 6 APRIL 2013




LVDW: Great Expectations is the title of both a group of figures and an individual sculpture. Where was the idea for this exhibition born? CS: The sculpture Great Expectations was made before the rest of the group, to be part of the exhibition what we talk about when we talk about love at Stevenson at the end of 2011. My idea for this group show was to look at love from the perspective of anticipation rather than experience. Earlier that year, when I was in New York for the opening of my exhibition Close, Close at Jack Shainman Gallery, I visited The Cloisters, a museum with a wonderful collection of medieval art. There I was really taken with a very beautiful medieval wooden sculpture of a woman and a baby lying together on a bed – a Madonna and child figure – in a reclining position, and painted very decoratively. As a sculptor I have always been drawn to the image of the Madonna and child, and in fact I have returned to the mother and child again and again in my work. The group Close, Close consisted almost entirely of double figures, figures that

Close, Close, from the series Close, Close, 2013, lithograph, 38 x 51cm



Two Hands, from the series Close, Close, 2013, lithograph, 51 x 38cm

are physically connected in some way, and was born out of my experience of new motherhood and the intense and inescapable physical proximity that comes with it. After Close, Close I wanted to move away from the mother and child iconography and make a single, reclining figure that was inspired by the sculpture at The Cloisters. Was this a thematic or a technical fascination? Both. On a thematic level I knew I wanted to move away from the family images that dominated Close, Close. Often a certain critical reading or reception of an exhibition seems to dominate and I find that I feel boxed in by interpretations that stress one aspect, sometimes to the detriment of other concerns. Having said that, it is also a box I build for myself, not something that comes only from outside. I recently read a quote by JM Coetzee that I enjoyed: ‘To write a novel you have to be like Atlas, holding up a whole world on your shoulders and supporting it there for months and years while its affairs work themselves out.’ So the box is both a positive thing and possibly negative if you get trapped there. I create a group of characters that then interact with each other within a space. Their meanings are derived from this interaction, among other things. I have to flatten one side of this ‘box’ in order to move on to a new narrative.



On a technical level, reclining figures present challenges that excite me. I have to rethink how the body connects with the head when it is in a horizontal position, how to lift the head so that it is not flat yet doesn’t appear strained. The relationships between all the different parts of the body change. Did the title Great Expectations arrive with the figure? In other words, what comes first, process or concept? 7

It varies. As I was working on this figure I started drawing thumbnails of possible sculptures that would make the group whole. To some extent this idea of expectations had as much to do with observing my own daughter, and realising how often children imagine themselves in the future, as with my looking back and seeing that childhood imaginings are just that: dreams that can, by definition, never be fulfilled. Yet they exist – but perhaps in what New York outsider artist Henry Darger termed ‘the realms of the unreal’. This seemed to me an apt way to think about art as well – an unreal realm is created in which everything seems possible. A world is created that is both real and unreal. That is one way of looking at the sculpture Song – the figure literally sings a new world into existence. Song is based on an old Japanese sculpture that I once saw of a prophet figure who sings nine deities into being, all balancing on a wire that comes out of his mouth. It’s about the creative act; about artists, writers, musicians thinking something into existence and setting up other worlds. It also references some Venda sculptures which I saw in the Johannesburg Art Gallery of seated figures with little figurines on their heads, as if these are the embodiments of ideas or dreams. You’ve said before that you often look at Balthus’ work, and in fact your sculpture Mirror is based on Balthus’ 1955 Nude before a Mirror. What attracts you to his work? I find I can look at Balthus’ paintings again and again and never be sure what his intention was, yet there is no end to the pleasure I derive from his works. For this exhibition I responded to the many young girls in Balthus’ work that simply lie around, languidly admiring themselves, as young girls do. Every work hints at many different narratives. Interpretations of Balthus’ work seem to me to reveal more about the viewer than about his intentions – he almost traps the viewer into making certain deductions which

are not necessarily supported by the paintings. This is partly what interests me about reclining figures – the power relation shifts when a sculpture is lying in front of the viewer. The viewer stands over the girl on the bed, can read meaning into her, and yet she is evasive, her ‘great expectations’ will always escape the viewer. I like the idea that artworks have an internal world that we as viewers can never quite access, that they exist without the viewer, or even the artist. In Loved Ones a young girl is depicted with bare breasts, which are as much the 8

focus of the sculpture as her face – her eyes and breasts both draw your eyes. I think of her breasts as the ‘loved ones’ – for me the title refers to the intense relationship a young girl has with her developing body and what it will signify one day. In Rivals that intensity is present in close childhood friendships that are nevertheless always spiked with competition and complexity. Like Balthus, your work does not respond to contemporary trends. Do you ever feel the need to work in different media? Carving in wood remains a very challenging medium for me. I still often struggle to get a figure right, sometimes to the point of regretting that I started it. That said, I hardly ever abandon anything. The satisfaction in carving comes mostly from having finished something I am happy with. My technique has changed a lot over the years. For instance, the sculptures in Great Expectations are all made from jelutong wood. Jelutong comes in thick planks that I have to glue and dowel together before I can start carving. This means that I am no longer limited by the shape of the log of wood, as I was when I worked in jacaranda (and as the carvers of Colon figures in West Africa would be). While I enjoyed the challenge of being restricted by a limited shape, I now appreciate the freedom of actually creating a blank piece of wood through an additive process, and then carving the sculpture out of that. It has meant that the dimensions of my figures can change. In Mirror, the girl’s arms had to be much longer than I would normally sculpt them, in order for her to reach up to her hair. It was quite a challenge to get the proportions right. Jelutong is also softer, which means I am able to start using a chisel and mallet earlier in the process and stop using power tools. I learn all the time. I worked with blunt chisels for years until I learnt how to sharpen them properly. A lot of what I know about woodcarving came from trial and error – it was not a technique that I was taught.



Insider, from the series Close, Close, 2013, lithograph, 51 x 38cm

What about the lithographs – how do they relate to the sculptures? The lithographs are essentially records of my sculptures. At first I made drawings of the sculptures, but I felt they were too interpretive. I started photographing the sculptures, then tracing the enlarged photographs. In the lithographic process, the images get their weight and sculptural quality through washes that are built up; the colours are flat or patterns. In this way the outline remains simple and clean, and for me most truly a record. This process was inspired by the work of Henry Darger, who traced found images as elements of the worlds he constructed, and then painted them. Finally, how do you know when you are finished with an exhibition? How do you know when to stop? Time is always a factor – I do need a deadline. I keep making sketches while I work until I feel the whole group is there. It’s really a continuing balance of process and concept, quite organic and intuitive.



Lovebird 2013 Jelutong, enamel paint, lime wood 15 x 30 x 14cm



Great Expectations 2011 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint 28 x 46 x 125cm



Loved Ones 2012 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint 85 x 38 x 22cm



Romance 2012 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint 54 x 22 x 78cm



Mirror 2013 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint 79 x 29 x 24cm



Rivals 2013 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint 78.5 x 27 x 18cm; 78 x 26 x 18cm



Boy 2013 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint 42 x 30 x 27cm



Song 2013 Jelutong, enamel and oil paint, steel 91.5 x 29 x 45cm






Claudette Schreuders was born in 1973 in Pretoria and lives and works in Cape Town. She graduated with a master’s degree from the Michaelis School of Fine Art in 1997. In 2004/5 her first solo museum exhibition toured the United States. Important group exhibitions include The Rainbow Nation, three generations of sculpture from South Africa, at Museum Beelden aan Zee, The Hague (2012); Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2011); Peekaboo: Current South Africa at the Tennis Palace Art Museum, Helsinki (2010); and Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas at the Cantor Arts Center, Stanford University, and the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, among other venues (2009-11). A sculpture from her Close, Close series was recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. A major monograph on her work was published by Prestel in 2011.

CAPE TOWN Buchanan Building 160 Sir Lowry Road Woodstock 7925 PO Box 616 Green Point 8051 T +27 (0)21 462 1500 F +27 (0)21 462 1501 JOHANNESBURG 62 Juta Street Braamfontein 2001 Postnet Suite 281 Private Bag x9 Melville 2109 T +27 (0)11 403 1055/1908 F +27 (0)86 275 1918 Catalogue 70 March 2013 © 2013 for works by Claudette Schreuders: the artist © 2013 for text: the authors Front cover Romance (detail), 2012, jelutong, enamel and oil paint, 54 x 22 x 78cm Editor Sophie Perryer Design Gabrielle Guy Photography Mario Todeschini Printing Hansa Print, Cape Town

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