OLYMPIA – Gallery Orange, Montreal. 2010

Deon Venter’s new paintings entitled Olympia at first appear to be a departure from the socio-political content for which he has become known, however, the male artist painting the female nude today is, in itself, presumed to be a political statement. The Olympia paintings are therefore at once history painting, and the development and future of painting in contemporary art.

Venter’s Olympia paintings refer to Manet’s Olympia, Goya’s La Maya des Nuda, Ingres La Grande Odalisque, Titian’s Venus of Urbino, as well as the painting which influenced these artists – Georgioni’s Sleeping Venus. Venter’s figurative work is also in dialogue with, and extends the figurative concepts of artists as diverse as Soutine, Picasso, de Kooning and Lucian Freud. To quote Willem de Kooning – “Flesh is the reason why oil paint was invented.”

Venter’s nudes are not eye candy, nor are they the product of the male gaze, but the models have become an integral part of the creative process, interactive with the viewer in their multiple renditions and the heavy impasto and taped painting. There is the suggestion and impression that the model is, at times, actively participating the battle of the creative process and at other times this is abandoned and newly drawn imagery is pursued.

The tapings add further complexity to the paintings, introducing new points of reference by dividing the painting up into multiple images and reminding us that all figurative painting is the illusion of the three dimensional, drawing the attention to the two dimensional canvas on which the composition is depicted. Traditional perspective is often eliminated to affect a more dynamic interaction between the subject and the viewer.

Through our interactions with each other there is, in all of us, an impulsive search, a quest for self-discovery and understanding of the ethereal and temporal nature of life. What makes this series of paintings so successful is that they magnify and resonate these abstract concepts, bringing an exciting development to contemporary figurative painting.

Robin Relph