Trapeze in the Sky

Stanley Faraday Pinker

Oil on Canvas
101.5 x 101.5cm
Signed: "S.F. Pinker" (Lower/Right)


Exhibited:       Johannesburg.  Graham’s Fine Art Gallery.  30 March – 30 April 2006.  Between Foothold and Flight”.

Illustrated:      Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2006. Between Foothold and Flight. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg. p. 102 & 103.


South Africa’s varied landscape, a source of inspiration to so many painters before, unlocked something for Stanley Pinker too. In an interview appearing in his recent monograph, Pinker states: “I realised my sense of identification with South Africa through the discovery of the landscape in the interior.” This discovery was prefaced by a circuitous, if productive journey towards this moment. Fascinated by the distant modernism he encountered in books while under the mentorship of Maurice van Essche, Namibian-born Pinker opted to leave South Africa for Europe, in 1951.

Much like the character in JM Coetzee’s autobiographical novel Youth, Pinker initially lived a somewhat deferred existence. In London, he started out working in the design department of the petroleum company Shell, using his spare time to paint and attend art classes. Pinker, who also lived in Nice for a period, eventually returned to South Africa in 1964. “For a while after returning, my painting revolved almost entirely around landscape, which was a new genre for me.” As his appreciation of the nuances and complexities of apartheid-era South Africa grew, the artist began inserting figures into his landscapes. “I started to think that it wasn't enough to paint an idealised specific landscape – the introduction of figures made the situation broader, less specific of place and more specific of content.”

In this abstracted landscape Pinker’s stated admiration for the Cubist visual language is made manifest. The confusion prompted by the four figures tumbling, effortlessly, through the sky remind of Cubist and Futurists experiments with motion. Pinker tempers these influences by infusing the scene with a heady sense of rapture. The painting clearly captures something of Pinker’s fascination with the immensity of local landscape. The depth of perspective offered here contrasts somewhat with what has been described as Pinker’s characteristically “shallow pictorial space”.

While descriptive of an effervescent scene, particularly the two thirds devoted to the depiction of the sky, the painting does nonetheless possess a foreboding immanence. In the work of artists such as Picasso circus performers often hold an ambivalent meaning. This is hinted at in Pinker’s scene. The yellowing clouds suggest sunset and the acrobats, suspended only by the sun’s munificence and radiant light, appear to be tempting collapse. The fire in the foreground adds to this menace. It burns on an already devastated stretch of earth, itself encroaching on lush, sectioned-off fields of green. Pinker’s critical perspective is however nuanced, and typically eschews obvious symbolism.



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