Fired up: the sound and the fury

Inspired by the fires which set the Cape Peninsula ablaze in April this year, Resurrection (der brennende Wald), is an astonishingly sensuous meditation on destruction and renewal. Currently showing at Everard Read, Matthew Hindley’s first solo exhibition in Cape Town since 2011 also illustrates – in this digital attention deficit age – the power that painting still has to evoke, convey and disrupt meaning in searing, unforgettable ways.

I met Hindley in his paint-splattered Woodstock studio a few weeks ago to see the paintings that will form the exhibition. They are grouped in two discrete parts. Resurrection is a series of large-scale figurative paintings which embody all the mythical drama of High Romanticism, one of the many inspirations that Hindley absorbed during his stints in Berlin from 2006 to 2010.

Often these vast, intricately-marked paintings contain a goddess-like figure, situated in the fire’s aftermath; others feature little animals that crept away from the raging flames into the safety of urban areas. Bright lines of paint are dripped across the moody palettes of these achingly lifelike images – sparking a playful conversation between the abstract and the figurative.

“If I look at a purely figurative painting now, I don’t find it interesting to do… for me the goal is to make good painting and I think these days a good painting has to be more complex than just a good figurative painting.”

Emma Vandermerwe, curator at Everard Read Cape Town, adds: “A very conscious effort has been made in this show not to lead the audience in any specific direction but to open the narrative up for conversation.”

We look at the smaller canvases making up the second section of the exhibition – der brennende Wald (“the burning forest”) which are showcased in a separate upstairs room at the gallery. These have been painted from photos culled from Google Images and Instagram. “The premise is that these are living, breathing moments that people have emotionally captured,” says Vandermerwe.

With oranges, yellows and reds triumphing over black, they capture not only the terrifying, overwhelming fury of the fire, but also its shocking, seductive beauty of it. And here is the charge, the frisson, the uncomfortable fact the viewer has to acknowledge: that a phenomenon of immensely destructive power can also be exquisitely alluring.

“There’s always been an undercurrent of something slightly destabilising in Matthew’s work,” Vandermerwe says.

Hindley agrees: “It’s that dark-light contrast, always. It is undeniably more thrilling than [something that’s] just pretty.”

Accompanying these paintings are soundtracks of burning, helicopters and glass breaking. These play when viewers trigger motion sensors situated in different parts of the room. Long fascinated by psychology and neurology, Hindley says the sounds enhance the paintings’ visual impact: “Sound activates more parts of the brain, so when you’re looking at the painting and the sound triggers, your level of sensation – what you’re able to experience – suddenly grows” – making the experience more immersive.

Having done sound installations at the beginning of his art career (when he was hanging out with the artistic likes of Robin Rohde in Barend De Wet’s Observatory hotel), this marks the first time he has combined his painting with the medium.

The exhibition runs until 10 November at Everard Read Cape Town.

An edited version of this piece first appeared in The Times.

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