David Krut Projects presents Ex Terra Etcetera by Lynda Ballen.
Opening on 11th March 2023 at 151 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood.
The materiality of the artwork has long been the focus of Lynda Ballen’s practice. Now, with the ubiquitous presence of digital images, she makes a strong claim for the enduring value of the physical artwork. This new body of work presents drawings on handmade paper, oil paintings on board and etchings, all of which emphasise the significance of the ‘handmade’, and stress that the materials of the works are substances yielded from the Earth – hence the title Ex Terra Etcetera.
The medium of handmade paper laminated over a matrix of thread continues Ballen’s particular technique in which she alludes to historical textiles, honoured by the artist for their rich cultural significance. In her current drawings, Ballen focuses on traditional plant-based dyes as her subject. Flowers, leaves, woods, seeds and berries like Indigo flora, Iris, Madder and Acorns and their respective blue, mauve, pink and brown become the focus of the works. The cotton plant – of paper and thread – as well as the water of pulp are also the subjects of the paper pieces. Ballen draws in a controlled technique, as if weaving her subjects into landscaped spaces. The pressure of the black, oil-based coloured pencil on the textured surface achieves tonal variations on the weft and warp criss-cross of the paper.
The paintings present as impasto images. Corrugated, crumbed and smooth surfaces of oil paint lie on a dark grey surface. Through visual interplay, they create a deep space that emerges from the picture-plane flatness. Concerned with the substance of paint, these artworks read as the result of the building up of the medium: meaning is inherent in the method itself. Mountains and plains, built structures and plants are raked into the torn and shredded veneer.
What is foregrounded in the encounter with these works is the congealed, gouged and plastered oil paint, and the carefully considered chromatic interactions. The crushed stone pigment, plant oils and resin, Poppy, Linseed, Damar and Copal that constitute oil paint are here mixed into a rich, buttery substance – sometimes matte and sometimes glossy. This substance is pulled by palette knife, brush and comb to create the surface. Images emerge out of the scratching and scraping that makes stratified ridges like geological structures. At times, there are almost tilled furrows into the impasto as if it were rich fertile soil.
Essentially, as in the drawings, the sense of ‘earthiness’ is conveyed through image and material. Parallel striations, globules and plant-like shapes emerge from the paint. The etchings continue the artist’s concern with textile patternmaking, as well as referencing the landscape. Calligraphic mark-making in various etching techniques draws plants on a fabric that lies before a recessive space containing industrial and urban structures. Each element on show suggests the destruction and encroachment onto precious ‘earth’ from which the substances of Ballen’s materials are yielded— down to the ink and paper of printmaking. As a grid with hand-drawn visual elements, these works seem to comment on pixelated digital images, while also attempting to transcend them.