INTERVIEW BY Bongiwe Nocanda PHOTOS Courtesy of the Barnard Gallery
Interludes, a series of exhibitions in the Barnard Gallery‘s second space, adjacent to the main gallery, was introduced in 2022. Smaller in scale and scope this room allows for a more intimate and perhaps experimental engagement. The Barnard Gallery are pleased to present an installation by Swedish South African artist Tom Cullberg, which includes a guest contribution by Cape Town painter Guy Simpson.
In this Interlude, Tom Cullberg presents an installation integrating his cabinets of paintings on a mural in his gestural abstract style. The cabinet works: You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory; and A Broken Frame, reference notions of time, movement, place and memory while exploring themes of darkness and light. Reflecting this, Guy Simpsons’ painted light switch on the mural acts both as a metaphor and an instrument in this transition. The mural references scribbles or newsprint- unknown text. The installation in the gallery’s smaller exhibition room evokes the form of a larger-than-life double page book spread, immersing the viewer in a visual narrative. We are simultaneously both onlookers and participants within an unfolding narrative.
For your last exhibition, Local Stories, at Barnard in 2022 you exhibited 10 cabinet installations; how did you arrive at this new body of work, exhibited at both the Investec Cape Town Art Fair and currently on show for Barnard’s Interlude?
I am interested in the associative nature of images and how painting combinations form stories. Where before I combined different images in a painting on the same canvas, now separate painted wood panels and sculpted wooden objects forms the “story” on shelves in a cabinet.
When discussing Sea-side Town in Finding New Life in an Old Form (the publication for Cullberg’s 2018 solo exhibition) Sean O Toole, asks; “How does one belong to a place?”. Upon viewing your works, I find viewers from different generations and cultures connect with one object on display, and then interrogate all the other pieces, looking for further familiarity. How do you interpret and explore the culture and time in which these moments occur?
Although some of the subjects are specifically “mine” and there’s a private underlying narrative in my work, there are simultaneously common narratives and points of association accessible to many. Often about books, music, travel, communication and the notion of home. I want to encourage the viewer to look closely and to take time for thinking and making connections. A Johannesburg painter I chatted to at the art fair said my works made her think about her upbringing and family life and her relation to books. This despite us growing up in different cultures, times and places. I hope that through the way my paintings and objects are made (a time consuming and often laborious, hand-made process) and the curation of my pieces, I encourage these interpretations and explorations around these connections and links to memories and the fabric of being human.
I’ve noted the gestural abstract style mural appears across various works, such as The Average Truth and Us Only. What are you conveying with this technique and what is its significance across your works?
I see them as brain activity and/or script in-between images. I have throughout my career deployed different abstract styles running parallel to the figurative painting practice. It’s a way to engage with the subject and the materiality (the paint and the brush) of painting in a completely different way but always with a maintained close relationship to the figurative stuff.
What was your thinking behind the inclusion of Cape Town-based painter Guy Simpson in your interlude show?
One of the themes of the two cabinets in the show is around illumination. The illumination when remembering, the light on a beach, the night-lit football stadium, a forest fire, the man on fire in the painting of Pink Floyd’s cover for the album Wish you Were Here, the book titles: Slow dazzle, Isamu Noguchis Akari lights, AC/DC and Back in Black etc. When conceptualising the show and knowing I wanted to do a wall painting I roped in Guy, whose work I feel a kin to and commend, to paint one of his signature light switches on the wall. Playing within the rules of engagement of my work; the suspension of disbelief and the theme of light and dark, it adds a finality to the room: an on and an off.
One lucky VISI reader will win a signed copy of Tom Cullbergs’ Finding New Life in an Old Form and Local Stories, valued at R2 000. To stand a chance of winning, enter the competition here.
Both collectors editions are published by Barnard and are available for purchase at barnardgallery.com
Interludes will be on display at the Barnard Gallery from 23 February to 11 April 2023.