Dominique Cheminais’ figures seduce, assault, delight and confuse - Bubblegum Club

Dominique Cheminais’ figures seduce, assault, delight and confuse

Dominique Cheminais is a dexterous colourist — she mixes, shades and tinges with intonations and delicate variations that produce remarkable visual sensations. Her solo exhibition at THK Gallery in Cape Town, Things Done While Dreaming, reads like a rediscovery of the plasticity of representation where characters from her literary texts are vigorously animated in a world of daydreams and nightmares. The painting show is filled with long-limbed figures lumbering around in dark and strange settings — wrestling wild animals, shadows and themselves and sometimes engaging in cultic rituals including a bizarre tea party served on a pink torso with adorable, and probably delicious, cookies spread on the floor. In a press release statement, Cheminais shares:

It’s almost as if I’m possessed, compelled to paint out all the images that are pressing on my brain. Over the intervening years of writing fiction, I have populated my mind with many creatures and characters and scenarios. These images are now demanding to be made more real; they desire colour, shape and form, they want to live and breathe in the world.

Dominique Cheminais

Dominique Cheminais, Ground Floor Pano

Most stylistic shifts and innovations are borne of artists’ impulse towards a ‘duty to provoke’.  There’s an understanding that in order for works of art to have a real effect on people (jolt them out of their comfort zones as it were), they need to be extreme or at the very least divergent. Sometimes this impulse is in service of a political project and at other times it is a purely artistic endeavour. I’m not suggesting that Cheminais’ Things Done While Dreaming is trying to provoke but there is something in the reaction of audiences that makes me think of its potential to do so. Ask anyone around you and most people describe a visceral reaction to the work (both positive and negative).

Weird, violent, gory, energetic, satirical, heavy, funny and fresh are a few (confusing but not untrue) words I have heard used to describe the work. Even when you are drawn to the paintings and actually like them, they leave you feeling uneasy. Formally, I read Cheminais’ works within the stylistic mode of artists such as Christina Quarles and John Currin. Although their figures are often recognisable as ‘people’, they are always an inch removed from any notion of realistic depiction — always hovering above the world of absurdism, reflected in writer Liz Gorny‘s contemplation (through the work of Miranda July) of artistic practice “invested in humanity at its strangest and most instinctual; violence, desire, loneliness, motherhood, connection.” I might add; bleak, comedic and nonsensical — they are creepy and alluring. And they never fail to seduce, assault, delight and confuse.

Dominique Cheminais

Artworks by Dominique Cheminais

Dominique Cheminais

Dominique Cheminais, The Brink of Death, 2022

Cheminais’ elongated strange figures are lurid, fierce and sometimes devilish. As a painter who writes, or a writer who paints, her work describes the character of a translator or the (im)possibility of translation. Perhaps translation is not even the word to describe this thing that happens when the world of literature rubs up against the visual world. Things Done While Dreaming nudges at how a poetic image can be a way to gather the complexity of a character’s interiority, both in fiction and in real life. But also, the exhibition is a lesson in how one medium (in this case painting) can dramatise another (non-factual prose) and in that process create a blurred, opaque and yet magical sphere of expression.

Through this exhibition, Cheminais affords us the opportunity to look at chaos without participating in it, a sort of floating detachment that makes life somewhat bearable. As these characters are tussling and struggling, it seems so too is Cheminais. The work points to a relentless pursuit for or toward something… presence against absence? Or perhaps these are simply joyous explosions of energy pointing to how each of us feels at different points in our human experience – excited, scared, moved and disoriented.

Dominique Cheminais

Artworks by Dominique Cheminais

Dominique Cheminais, The Demon Escapes, 2022

Dominique Cheminais, Draya and the Wagon, 2022



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