HEADLINES – Parisian Laundry, Montreal, 2005

Topic Painting John K. Grande

Essay for Catalogue


Deon Venter’s Headlines series is painterly and particular.  There is a reversal of meaning in the use of patterns, serial signs or markers that repeat their motifs across the surfaces of these paintings.  Soetsu Yanagi has written in The Unknown Craftsman:  A Japanese Insight into Beauty that:

In all good patterns, there is a reinforcing of beauty. A pattern is not merely exaggeration, but an enhancing of what is true (…) A pattern, rather than presenting the thing as it is, is a vivid representation of what the thing could never be. Thus, though a literal depiction, it achieves a verity that transcends realism. Pattern is the power of beauty.”

This sense that realism is transcended by presenting two levels of painting – the representation and the repeated motif – cause us to read each painting altogether differently than we might presume. In Bed, for instance, a series of grey horizontal rectangles traverse the canvas at regular intervals. These strangely become the representation while the figuration of an unmade bed – very visceral and painterly – becomes the surface onto which these patterns exist. Thus the order of representation and abstraction is reversed. The patterning achieves its strongest effect in Museum and Palace. In both of these paintings the actual buildings are very structural, even like defense structure. The latter is multi-turreted and could be a simple representation but for the repeated line motifs that, like the inverted red pointed forms in Museum, suggest some potential threat, or even violence, something that could potentially disrupt the order of things.

It is apt that in the Headlines series we have an image of Ground Zero. The art is in the way Deon Venter develops a visual counter-point, a to and fro between the diagrammatic repeating motifs and the essentially forlorn subject of an eviscerated and empty urban space. The violence is implicit to this theme, yet the palette and style with which Venter paints the scene from a bird’s eye view is like Bonnard – very impressionistic. We are sensitized to the fact that everything is hypothetical in this constructed visual space. The small white squares that alternate with this realistic view of the space where September 11th’s tragedy took place cause us to literally transcend the real subject and to read it visually in an abstract way.

With his painting Columbia, we are witness to a scene in an industrial building. The space shuttle becomes just a diagram within that painterly scenario. We see green lines and red points that compose themselves into what potentially could be the Columbia Space Shuttle. The whole “diagram” painted as it is, is set into a grid-like space that is designated, regulated, measured. This scenario exists in an era where design is integral to production, where design by nature is diagrammatic, even based upon screen date, on information that is abstracted from any given or specific reality. The, continued sense of the illusive nature of that finality.

In Farm, Venter plays further with the relativism of today’s art. An abstract surface area co-exists with the simple landscape view of a farm. There is a series of lozenge-like shapes that traverse this scene providing a metaphorical cue that these, as with the other paintings in this series, are largely mimetic recreations, the product of the intertwining of memory and process. Venter’s choice of subject, however, always remains based in reality, in the historic event. We remember that the art object, even the surface nature of art, has been challenged by new technologies, by the seemingly infinite number of ways images are transposed, reproduced, reinvented, through a series of technical processes. Thus the process of painting is given a new structural meaning. It aligns itself with surface and vision, with a design metaphor that is in accord with the way most individuals perceive the world in a digital age…

We perceive the world as a series of visual layers, but more often than not the layers can be product as much as nature. The two – product and nature – intertwine vociferously in our culture. Surfaces speak more subtly than content can. Content becomes the material with which surfaces are built. Thus the interchangeability between representation and symbolic abstract motif in Deon Venter’s Headlines series. Realism can be a backdrop for surface motif. Neither is the subject. Working together they transcend, build a deeper level of interpretation. Ultimately the Headlines series causes us to ask questions about content and representation, even of art’s ultimate connection to reality as we know it. I am not entirely sure whether there are answers to these questions… Figuration is extemporized, just as abstraction is extemporized. The metaphor is in the material reconfigured, inter-culturally fused… Deon Venter’s approach to the process of building image(s) into surface(s).