Following Clive Van den Berg’s recent survey at the KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts, Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Underscape, a cross-section of paintings by the artist that considers the “distemper” of our lived experience in relation to landscape.
On the nature of this theme in his work, Van den Berg notes:
“A swelling of earth, a hollow or dispersed pile of stones that once marked a grave or embattlement, are the grammar of my landscape vocabulary. These vestigial mutterings of geography are the prompts that I respond to in making my work, a kind of interstitial speech, connecting the remnant to its repressed or forgotten source… I grew up in Luanshya, a small mining town in Zambia and now live in Johannesburg, one of the largest of all mining towns. Perhaps it is the occasional shaking of the land, its stuttering as a shaft collapses or a plate realigns, or indeed the sudden appearance of sinkholes, those most compelling of negative spaces that first made me curious about that other landscape, the underscape.”
For Van den Berg, land serves as a powerful marker for the anxieties contained in both the personal and the political. The artist seeks to unpack this by separating the idea of land into the spheres of ‘above’ and ‘below’ ground. Using this dichotomy the artist is able to differentiate between what we idealise on the surface, and what exists unresolved below. Historical depictions of land, which were primarily filtered through Western perception, sought to possess the territory by recording its surface image. In turn, Van den Berg confronts the tradition of South African landscape painting, by peeling “the surface off the land and mak[ing] the landscapes porous”.
Van den Berg sees the body and the landscape as sites that carry memories and scars. In turn, these symbols evoke desires, which the artist aims to reveal, often through the illuminating power of light. Van den Berg does this by presenting a new kind of visual language, one that attempts to break syntax without relinquishing its necessity. In this sense, the artist darts between allegory and abstraction in his works, creating tensions and polarities that simultaneously arrest and excite the viewer when encountering them.