Verso: Inscription on stretcher frame: “Stanley Pinker Vision”
Label, South African National Gallery
Exhibited: A Selection of Stanley Pinker’s work to date 1983. King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth & South Africa National Gallery, Cape Town, catalogue 33
Johannesburg. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 29 May – 29 August 2008. “The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity”.
Illustrated: Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2008. The Modern Palimpsest: Envisioning South African Modernity. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 158 & 159
“My aim is to communicate with everybody, not selectively. I feel that art, literature, music, and painting provide spiritual support. They should move the spirit and make us aware, and in that way I intend my paintings to make statements… I believe that art is one of the major optimisms, it is a life-support system, an affirmation of life.”
Born in Namibia, Pinker studied under Maurice van Essche in Cape Town for three years (1947-1950) and thereafter spent some ten years (1954-1964) in Europe and Britain before returning to South Africa. Pinker’s distinct, eclectic and complex iconography separates him from the mainstream of French influenced Cape Town artists and groups, while his work is evidence of his unmistakable command of the formal languages of early twentieth-century European modernism.
The title of this painting is already indicative of a very personal transformation of reality and the work is exemplary of Pinker’s elusive metaphoric vocabulary. His characteristic use of a unifying base colour – in this instance a rich, deep ultramarine – sets the mood for the painting as a whole. The dominance of blues, in conjunction with the circular forms, is evocative of infinite space, the circular forms enhancing the sense of movement. Swirling in this ambiguous spatial setting is a plethora of recognizable objects and figures, amongst them planets, quirky astronauts, the protea (referencing South Africa), square missiles, a kite and paper planes.
While there appears to be, at first glance, a carnivalesque mood, in the feathered mask obscuring the face in the center of the canvas, there are undercurrents of the sinister in the emerging figure of the goat to the left of the centre of the painting and in the dark shadow cast by the black bird in flight, or attack, to the right. The goat, symbolic perhaps of Dionysos or the devil, appears, ironically, under what seems to be the headgear of a cleric. Going against the motion of the other figures and upsetting the spatial logic, the bird’s presence, especially, introduces a foreboding and menacing element, in stark contrast with the ambivalence of the performing bird on the left, this time seemingly tamed and instructed by its trainer.
An ambiguous and enigmatic work that allows for many interpretations, it reiterates Pinker’s statement in his self-titled monograph from 2004 that “an essential quality is mystery. For me no good work gives up all its secrets”. Pointing to the absurdities of the human condition in general, the juxtaposition of disparate and bizarre elements questions notions of reality. Elusive, it provides only glimpses into Pinker’s mysterious and magical vision.