Behind an oil painting
Zarah Cassim. Amount of something, 2017. Oil on canvas. 430 x 430mm. Framed Courtesy of the artist & Salon91.
ART AFRICA spoke to Zarah Cassim on her upcoming solo exhibition ‘Guise of reality’ at Salon91 gallery and how she uses her paintings of natural landscapes to encourage us to question the multiple layers of what we perceive as reality.
ART AFRICA: You were born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, but have subsequently based yourself in Paris. Has the juxtaposition between these two cities had any impact on your work?
Zarah Cassim: My work deals with themes of reality and illusion and subject matter is generally linked to the natural landscape. Being South African and coming from a place full of natural, raw beauty, with mesmerising natural landscapes – living in Paris has been a visual adjustment. Paris has a beauty of its own but holds more of a historical, architectural beauty than a natural beauty. I think that this aspect has affected my work the most – natural landscapes have become more of a dream and a distant, blurred memory as opposed to a visual reality. I feel my representations of the landscape becoming more abstract, more blurred and more dreamlike. I guess this is a confrontation with the city; yearning for a natural beauty and a nostalgic relationship with my subject matter.
Zarah Cassim, Fall Into, 2017. Oil on paper. 350 x 265mm. Framed. Courtesy of the artist & Salon91.
In 2015, your first solo exhibition ‘These Spaces/These Places’ explored the natural landscape as a place of introspection, secrecy and intimacy. How did you express these ideas in your work, and what was your experience of your first solo exhibition?
I wanted to show, more than the multiple layers of reality embedded in it, that the landscape is a place of secrets and a space of intimacy – where reflections, shadows and moments beneath the surface are able to be expressed. Personally, the natural landscape has served this purpose for me, in a world which is at times overwhelming.
I used multiple layers of paint (literally) to express these reflections and moments. The images were dark and moody and intimidating yet they held a sense of comfort, an immersive, ethereal depth of memory through layers of imagery.
Your upcoming solo show at Salon91, ‘Guise of Reality’, further explores themes surrounding the natural landscape. How has your work developed since ‘These Spaces/These Places’, and why have you chosen oil paint as your main medium of expression?
My work has developed in the sense that my images of the natural landscape are becoming more abstract, more dreamlike and much darker. This is partly in relation to my personal view of “the illusion we perceive as reality” – where I’ve referenced Dostoevsky “Notes from the Underground”. This is reflective in my paintings; yearning for natural landscapes and the sometimes dark confrontation with reality. I have found oil paint to be the perfect medium for painting in multiple, transparent layers. I often paint, remove the paint, paint again, remove the paint, continue the process – and end up with shadows and stains on the canvas. Visible traces of previous layers of paint on the canvas, have been the perfect method for exploring the notion that reality exists in multiple layers.
Zarah Cassim, Purple Matter, 2017. Oil on canvas paper. 435 x 335mm. Framed. Courtesy of the artist & Salon91.
Can you please tell us more about your chosen title for the exhibition, ‘Guise of Reality’?
The ‘Guise of Reality’ is in reference to the themes I am fascinated with – reality and illusion.
I question reality and illusion and attempt to blur the boundary between the two entities and create a moment where things are fluid and perception is mutable.
The title ‘Guise of Reality’ alludes to the notion that reality is subject to individual perception and exists in multiple layers. Viewing reality as something we construct and blurring the boundary between reality and illusion is something that has had a great influence on my work and the way in which I view the world.
Zarah Cassim, Way, 2017. Oil on paper. 250 x 205mm. Framed. Courtesy of the artist & Salon91.
In your artist statement, you make reference to Dostoevsky’s ‘Notes from the Underground’, where both the connection between man and nature, and the guise of reality are addressed. Why are these topics of importance to you, and how do they relate to your understanding of ‘art’?
To me, it is important to be aware of the methodology of the time we are living in. The themes of man & nature and “the guise of reality”, are ways of exploring and unveiling the multiple layers we perceive as reality, so that we may address these layers and perhaps question them.
My reference to Dostoyevsky is linked to the inherent structure and politics of the world we live in. Terrible things are happening in the world – people are being born into debt, enslaved in a world run by a banking system with an illusionary idea of freedom, and these forces appear to be beyond our control.
A parallel is seen in Dostoevsky’s work…
“Bah, gentlemen, what sort of free will is left when we come to tables and
arithmetic, when it will all be a case of two times two makes four? Two times two
makes four even without my will. As if free will meant that!”
“Every decent man in our age must be a coward and a slave. That is his normal
condition. I am profoundly convinced of that. He is made that way and is
constructed for that very purpose. And not only at the present time owing to some
casual circumstances, but always, at all times, a decent man must be a coward and a
slave. That is the law of nature for all decent people on the earth.”