Jaco van Schalkwyk plays Backgammon with Bridget Riley and Odili Donald Odita in his second solo exhibition at GALLERY AOP. 'I wanted to play a game: to make a few drawings while questioning the distinction between form and colour', he states while discussing his new work in relation to these two artists. The influence they exert on Van Schalkwyk’s work is an intricate and sensitive process of what Harold Bloom, well-known American literary theorist would call ‘the swerve’. Influence of one artist on another, according to him, involves assimilating the invisible inner spirit of any precursory artist, and ‘misreading’ or swerving away from it.
The elongated triangular shapes in most of Van Schalkwyk’s drawings invoke the ‘points’ of a Backgammon board. They constitute the playing field as two players move their checkers in a horseshoe motion from either end of the board to the other. Each player’s checkers have to be ‘borne off’ the board before the other one’s, the players continuously avoiding ‘blotting’ each other’s checkers on the bar that divides the two sides of play. The ‘bar’ constitutes the space where the shapes in Van Schalkwyk’s drawings assume delicate, even lyrical, forms. These forms, in turn, constitute the trails of the laws of chance in his work.
Much as these trails provide evidence of the gestural, abstract expressionist nature of Van Schalkwyk’s artistic process, they also capture the structure or delineation of a conversation he wants to initiate with Riley and Odita. Describing the way in which he works, van Schalkwyk mentions the fact that he often starts by placing six to ten sheets of paper on his studio floor and making marks with a special type of fluorescent ink simultaneously on all the sheets. The way in which the ink lands on the paper is as much determined by his gestural acts as they are by a draft that might be blowing through his studio, shaping how thick or thin the line or form becomes on the paper. Van Schalkwyk is concerned with making drawings in which he can communicate 'both decidable and undecidable compositional elements'. He is concerned with communicating the nature of chance without reverting to randomness. His concerns culminate in what he calls, 'framing lyrical events in formalism.'
His forms contrast sharply with those of Riley. 'Riley is stuck in form', Van Schalkwyk maintains, 'Her obsession with geometric shapes such as the square and the circle means little to me. Her work essentially presumes a blind faith in form. I am an agnostic when it comes to form.' The resultant forms in his work are literal cuttings up of any recognizable board game shapes.
Although form delineates the conversation Van Schalkwyk has with Riley and with Odita, colour is the actual conversation. This conversation is shaped by the viscosity, flow, gravity and application of the colour of the ink he uses. He quotes Riley in this regard: 'You cannot just paint colour: if you try to do this you inevitably end up in the trap of monochromatic painting.' Colour, in other words, has shape. Van Schalkwyk shapes his colour by involving Odita in the conversation. 'The colours I use are personal', Odita states. 'They reflect the collection of visions from my travels locally and globally. I derive at colour intuitively, hand-mixing and coordinating them along the way. In my process I cannot make a colour twice – it can only appear to be the same. This aspect is important to me as it highlights the specificity of differences that exist in the world of people and things.'
With the same ‘specificity of difference’, the same ‘pattern or structure of chance’ Van Schalkwyk has his colours hand-mixed and colour-coded by a global manufacturer of lithographic printing ink, in addition to hand-mixing in his studio.
And how does Van Schalkwyk draw with colour? The conversation he has with himself about this matter goes something like the following: 'How can I draw atrocity? With a good, fleshy pink. Why pink? It is unexpected and remains invisible. Unless it shows you it’s bits of red. And then? You might go mad: Atrocity erodes one’s faculties of perception. How do I keep myself from madness? By grounding each colour empirically as an attribute of my Beloved.'
Jaco van Schalkwyk was born in South Africa. He spent nine years in New York City, where he received a BFA in Drawing from the Pratt Institute (2003). Currently based in Cape Town, where he works and lives, FUN AND GAMES... is his second solo exhibition with Gallery AOP. Recent exhibitions include AVANT CAR GUARD, JACO +Z-DOG and Friends at blank projects, Cape Town and Supermarket Independent Art Fair, Stockholm, Sweden.
I wanted to play a game: To make a few drawings while questioning the distinction between form and colour, as expressed in the work of Bridget Riley. Please read her compact essay At the end of my Pencil : My Lines (2009). On the other hand, I looked at the work of Odili Donald Odita, particularly his highly personal connection with colour.
I landed up with the following unintended consequences of an inquiry:
1. DRAWING THE UNDECIDABLE
How can I make a drawing where I can communicate both decidable and undecidable compositional decisions?
By relinquishing control
But won't each compositional decision be undecidable then?
Only if I limit myself to dry media or pens, attempting to draw a loss of control without in fact losing control.
So the drawings will be more like paintings?
If they are to speak of the undecidable, yes, they need to include a select lexicon of painting: Viscosity, flow, medium, gravity, application.
2. DRAWING CHANCE
How can I communicate the nature of chance without reverting to randomness?
By framing lyrical events in formalism.
Then these drawings are just interpretive illustrations?
Unless they are themselves instances of chance events.
Is that even possible?
Given the division of space and the inaccuracies of measurement within a closed composition, yes, anything is possible.
3. DRAWING COLOUR
How can I draw atrocity?
With a good, fleshy pink
It is unexpected and remains invisible. Unless it shows you it's bits of red.
You might go mad: Atrocity erodes one's faculties of perception.
How do I keep myself from madness?
By grounding each colour empirically as an attribute of my Beloved.
4. WORKING TOWARDS A DELICATE USAGE OF IDEAS
Can an idea be well formed when hanging, or must it be well grounded?
It depends on what colour it is.
Is a low-key idea more easily well grounded?
Only if it is hanging from a high-key line.