Writing Art History Since 2002

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David Krut Arts Resource | Johannesburg

The exhibition A Blanket Story showcases Bronwen Findlay’s recent foray into printmaking and comprised a limited selection of prints pursuing two distinct visual directions. In a series of multi-coloured etchings, disembodied springbok heads float in precarious symmetry alongside an emblematic crown. These heads are at once free-floating, yet also framed, as by a coin. The repeated figures hover on a hazy background, which differs between the prints, from yellow to turquoise to green, and are finally intersected by heavy stripes running vertically across the picture plane. The etchings are complemented by a selection of monotypes in which the springbok head appears in more muted tones, either as template or wallpapered background to strelitzia flowers and doily impressions. The prints were inspired by the woollen blankets Findlay found at trading stores near the Lesotho border. The designs on the blankets date back to the 1940s and contain numerous icons of English origin, like the RAF wings and British crown, alongside vernacular motifs, such as springbok heads and dominant red stripes, typically linked to Basotho dress. Ideally suited to Lesotho highland weather conditions, these blankets were adopted by the Basotho as a traditional blanket, presented at birth and preciously kept until death. The tension between the object’s use value and its cultural significance is of key importance. While the emblems bear no direct relation to either, they have an inherent symbolic value which here transmits across two cultures. The insignia and woollen quality of the blanket thus become the predominant images within Findlay’s prints.In the etchings, Findlay depicts only the crown and springbok, laid either over or under the hazy field imitating the blanket’s surface. Findlay was able to create the illusion of the blanket’s softness without the definition that accompanies most etching, pushing the printing and her own process in new directions. The etching was also worked in a fairly non-traditional way. Instead of printing an edition, Findlay preferred to make a series of differently coloured prints from the plates, which was more indicative of the variety of blankets on display in the trading stores. The monotypes, on the other hand, allowed for different adaptation, as Findlay was able to combine the blanket symbols with more perennial imagery, like the doily impressions.Jeannine Howse

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