The art one tends to encounter in alleyways generally consists of graffiti and street art, with the small possibility of some sort of urban-style installation (the presence of which, one is never certain of as being intentional or simply accidental detritus from a maintenance job). What I hadn’t expected wandering down a particularly brightly-lit alleyway in Linden, was to find a well-curated exhibition of meticulously rendered charcoal drawings on paper. No End Contemporary Art Space, could be mistaken for an alleyway by its dimensions, but that is also the strength of the gallery, occupying a space in the overlooked gaps left open by the mega-galleries of today.
Currently showing at No End is the two person show by Dalene Victor Meyer and Michael Smith titled Surface. It’s a pairing that works surprisingly well, given the difference in imagery and subject matter employed by both artists. Dalene’s drawings make particularly strong use of form; playing between structure and chaos, surface and depth. Contrasting the swirling movement of her drawings with strong rigid lines that render it very urban, yet simultaneously organic. There is a tension that is evident in the works, as well as a layering of technique. Quite evident to the viewer, is the time spent in rendering each drawing, as Dalene mentioned to me, her technique begins with “drawing using charcoal, then soaking the drawing, embossing it and working into the drawing again, contributing to the practical action of layering, analysing and exploring.” There’s a subtlety in the forms that begins to draw you in to the work, making the viewers’ role one similar to that of an archaeologist, digging through the layers.
Michael Smith’s work employs pop imagery to the max. Shiny inflated balloons, pulsing hearts, and twinkling stars abound in his work, all meticulously rendered in charcoal, forcing you to take a double look, to make sure you aren’t looking at a real shiny plastic balloon. This iconography is put to use in making text and language visual, specifically text that is sourced from internet phraseology. Phrases such as “lol” and “meh” are used as a way of reflecting the weird and amorphous, yet globalised language that has sprung up in chat rooms, on social media and in memes. At times the work veers towards a more political discourse, where phrases such as “Send Nudes” touch on current issues of gender and sexuality in online communications, and “Fanon,” which is rendered in glittering diamonds, comments on a “gold-plated socialism favoured by the proponents of South African activist groups.” There is a formal awareness at play in the trio of works titled Trajectory, which are painted on tondos, round-format canvases – a direct reference to the Instagram or WhatsApp profile picture format.
Both artists employ a keen sense of their interrogation of charcoal drawing as a medium, working into the surface of the paper. Simultaneously channelling the medium to suit their intentions, and responding to its own intricacies and limitations. This show is also a testimony to the discipline of being an artist, and not only in the area of mastering your craft. Both artists have full time jobs; Michael teaches art at St David’s, Inanda, and Dalene lectures full time at the Open Window Institute in Pretoria and as both of them can attest, making art whilst supporting a full-time job is not easy. Whilst the burden of supporting yourself financially through your art is relieved, time and energy are consumed by your career. But being a teacher has enabled Dalene to have the opportunity to do something she never thought she could. Along with fellow Open Window Institute lecturers Maaike Bakker and Jayne Crawshay-Hall, the three of them launched No End Contemporary Art Space in 2015. The artist-run gallery is serving as a platform for emerging artists and curators, seeking to be an alternative space in which a variety of new work can be introduced to the market. And as the name suggests, they don’t have any plans of stopping soon.