As the title suggests, not all is as it seems in this the artist’s latest body of paintings. While those familiar with Van Schalkwyk’s work will at once recognize his characteristic and meticulous attention to detail in the rendering of these painted panoramas of dense woodland and wilderness whereabouts, it is evident on closer observation that the seemingly familiar has become at once foreign. These images hold a sense of disquiet beneath their painted surfaces - a ‘certain uncertainty’ that is simultaneously beguiling and unsettling.
As is the artist’s practice, Van Schalkwyk used his multitude of photographs taken over a number of years (pre-pandemic when travel was still possible) as reference for these paintings. However, unlike in previous exhibitions such as Eden (2015), -Arium (2017), Nemora (2018) and A Land I Name Yesterday (2019), the initial images created as reference for Smoke and Mirrors were constructed, quite literally by repeating and inverting half of an existing photograph and juxtaposing the two halves to mirror each other. The paintings that have resulted from these source images approximate Rorschach inkblot patterns that invite us to read imagery and meaning into what was originally a familiar rendition of landscape. The images have their origin in the natural world, but the kaleidoscopic effect of fracturing and doubling turns a natural scene into an eerie confrontation with the unknown.
Created during the ongoing pandemic these paintings are of their times - metaphors for our sense of psychological distress, our unease and anxiety in a ‘new’ world where we are forced to adapt and rethink our past, place and position within it. In these mirrored images what should be familiar is now otherworldly and, as with a Rorschach inkblot test, each person’s interaction with and interpretation of the image may differ. While the Rorschach test is no longer commonly employed in identifying psychosis, some practitioners use it as a way of encouraging self-reflection and initiating a conversation about the person’s ‘internal world’. For this reason, Van Schalkwyk refers to Smoke and Mirrors as an especially interactive exhibition, suggesting that a valid way to approach these paintings is to imagine alternative worlds or spaces and one’s possible place in them.
*The above press release is an adaptation of Professor Karen von Veh’s text Smoke and Mirrors: An Exhibition by Jaco van Schalkwyk.