The oke from Auckland has been doing a residency out at the Wildgarten studio for the last month or so. He got off the plane with a suitcase filled mainly with oil paint. Then he drove out to Wildgarten in the maroon 1996 Jetta and set up shop. Its been two years since his last visit and he’s busy putting out new work to sustain his ties to the Borman Gallery in Cape Town.
I visited Chapman at the studio a few days later. He was waiting for fresh canvases to arrive, but had launched fearlessly into a number of old ones. These have been standing against the wall waiting for another turn. They already have a certain character and history as objects. The roll of 1970’s Belgian linen purchased in Auckland, worked on in De Rust in 2012,and abandoned. That tricky bit of buckling canvas that won’t get straightened out. The edges, streaked with small accretions of paint that give us clues, like the rings of a tree. The work looked promising after the opening salvos. However, one knows that Chapman’s process is no straight road. He’ll take the canvas in all sorts of directions before settling on something he trusts. There’ll be any number of re-workings, the paint coming off and going on in successive bouts of arrival and subversion.
Chapman knows a lot more than most about the behaviour of pigments, their drying times, their opacity or transparency, how they brush out, and so.(The American manufacturer Williamsburg is a favourite.) He’s particular about brushes, too, sometimes re -engineering them for specific tasks. The favourite ones are cherished and used until long after their sell-by date. I came across this trusty old steed in its dying throes:
One could argue that the square-type paintings that have occupied Chapman for the past few years are a vehicle for journeys into pigment and colour that are unhindered by the need to make representations of things. We refer to them as “abstract”, but what does that mean? It still implies an abstraction of things, whereas “non representational” seems a better label, if you must. Personally, I don’t need to hang words onto these works. A look around the studio tells you that this is an artist who is very in love with paint and what it can do. (He will enthuse about the butteriness of Flake White, the need for a true Cerulean Blue, or the transparency of Williamsburg’s Ardois Grey.)
Colour in the new paintings is restrained. They don’t shout at you. They draw you in in a matter-of-fact kind of way. So, is there more to this than meets the eye? Well, yes. There’s the life of the painter to consider, the sense of craft, the sense of a lineage. In some esoteric way these all flit in and out of a painter’s consciousness and onto the canvas. Of the many painters we’ve talked about over the last few weeks, Chapman holds a special regard for the sage of Italian still life, Giorgio Morandi. Among the living, he likes Peter Doig and the New York abstract painter Amy Sillman. The work of those artists might help to map out points of reference for these paintings. But so might the taste of a good Chenin Blanc after a hard day’s slog. Or a long leisurely stroll through the mountains with an Africanis by your side.