African Sketches works by Guy Portelli
Author Joe Pollitt
The body of work has been developed over a 10 year period and the sketches are from the time spent in the artist’s beloved country. The works include sculpture, paintings and sketches created with an African game reserve backdrop. In a time when South Africa is still licking it’s open sores of Apartheid it still remains a divided, complex county trying to find it’s identity in a new era. Guy’s body of work is a wonderfully refreshing look at a struggling nation. A country that will never change in it’s beauty. The artist has somehow captured that innocence in ways few other artist can. There is a quietness to the work and a peaceful acceptance of it’s dangers. The colours found in the southern hemisphere are so vivid, pastel and complementary. Guy paints are an orientalist, using a simple style that is indicative of Africa and his application of paint on the canvas is considered and worthy of note. Firstly, he lightly washes his canvases with a sponge filled with pink, white and yellow as a base to work from. This is slowly built up adding in the oranges and the richer earthy colours of the omnipresent red soil that is seen throughout the Continent. The landscape is one of the few aspects that East and Southern Africa have in common. The glorious open spaces that allows such freedom and a chance to escape the ugliness of race and religion. A chance to be amongst nature and a true feeling of being as much a part of the landscape of the wildest of animals. Here in the wilderness all the problems of the fast paced modern world evaporate. This simplicity is shown in a series of works that views the country in a new light; one that is gentler and sporting a kinder perspective. In discussing the works, it becomes apparent just how much the artist sincerely loves his country of origin.
It is all too easy to get bogged down by the negatives of this world. The arguments we have with foolish folk thinking as children do, of a defined singular Creator and everlasting love. This vision of the world is far too wooly, too candy-coated and lacks depth and understanding. It is through art we see the gentleness of life, the complexity of colours merging and images forming. The true creators are those with the brush. Those that define our everyday in ways we would like but just are unable. In the back room the mild artist takes his audience on a journey from Jo’burg to Cape Town. Quickly sketching, then painting on A4 boards, all housed within strong white wooden frames, with quiet suggestions of large windows, in first class carriages, in vintage South African steam-engined trains of old. There is a carefree luxury feel to the works, as the painter sketches the glorious beauty of an enormous Africa. Although the works are small the sense of perspective and grandeur is obvious. Somehow all are put in their place, as the artist depicts a nature that will always have it’s way, with us mere mortals.
On the back wall is a painting exploring the townships of South Africa. The marketplace with earthenware pots to house water as those with flowing taps are few and far between and plumbing is out of the question. The bright colourful materials which hang on wires are illuminated in the midday sun; swishing gayfully in a welcomed breeze in the hot yet tepid climate. In the foreground is a bicycle on it’s side, laid down gently on the rich, deep, orange floor. The sense of desperation is invisible as all have accepted their lot and busy themselves creating playful giraffes for the tourists and just right of the centre is a black figure who seems to be seen selling, in order to feed empty bellies back home. This romantic look at the downtrodden appeals to eyes that care to see the real nature of this work. This work is a portrait of progress made within the poorest parts of his homeland. It was painted in 2010 and Portelli returns to the scene two years later, only to find the exact same picture postcard, in this post Apartheid period in South Africa. The painting beside the township work is entitled, township II and acts more as a social commentary to the inevitability of constant poverty and the lack of change as the situation remains forever static, still ill-educated and stuck in the roots of lost opportunities. The earthenware pots have now changed in size, slightly smaller but more of them. The bicycle has not grown into a handsome 4 x 4 but instead is almost sprouting shoots in the soil with an everlasting imprint as evidence of the slowness of change in these plentiful, forgotten parts of town.