Early Autumn is harvest time in the Western Cape. We set off to the Solms-Delta Oesfees in Franschhoek. We went around the big mountains with young Lulu on the back seat. As we pulled into the Tokara wine estate for a snack, Lulu spewed up her breakfast. Hoping to find a dustbin nearby, I headed off past the well heeled diners on the patio, carrying a Checkers packet full of dog vomit. There was no dustbin outside or in the hyper chic interior. I ordered a muffin from the sleek haired waitress, unable to ask for assistance. Clutching a heated muffin and the Checkers bag I wandered back outside to Cathy and Lulu, who were huddled amongst the olive trees, near our battered old Polo. Talk about lowering the tone, ekse.
In Franschhoek we stayed with our painter friend Kerri Evans. She first showed at the Everard Read in Jo’burg about 15 years ago, when she was living in India. Her portraits of Indian people were beautifully rendered, exotic and very appealing. The Johannesburgers voted with their cheque books and Evans was on her way.
Evans has concentrated on portraiture and the figure. What draws you into her work is the sheer painterliness of it. One knows, looking at an Evans portrait, that this is a likeness – often meticulously rendered – but at the same time there’s a looseness, a revelling in the brushwork and the sheer possibilities of paint. The human figure and face are a pretext, a point of departure for Evans’ real concerns, which are not unlike those of abstract painters. In abstract painting, the ‘subject’ of the work is often the process of painting itself. Scrutinise an Evans painting and you will see any number of glazes, blurrings and overpaintings: you will be looking at a record of how the thing was arrived at.
Whereas a lot of us painters make use of a grid or an overhead projector to transfer our original image onto the canvas, Evans does no preliminary drawing. Using flat brushes, the forms are laid in loosely in thin washes: after many alterations and additions the image is arrived at. For those who think Evans is a methodical kind of painter who knows a trick or two about covering her tracks, the reverse is true. She says she starts every painting not knowing how she did the last one and if she can do it again. Evans has never been comfortable working on canvas – she prefers the super smooth surface of prepared masonite and has recently discovered working onto unprimed metal sheets – a highly stable surface if ever there was one.
There is an awful lot of bad painting in the world, a lot of it given more importance than it deserves. Evans works in the long tradition of figurative painting. But within those confines, she is pushing back boundaries. Her work deserves to last.