The William Humphreys Art Gallery is pleased to present ‘Survey’, a mid-career retrospective of the work of Jaco van Schalkwyk, represented by the Barnard. Spanning a decade of painting, ‘Survey’ includes examples from each of the artist’s projects presented during this period. Seen in context this exhibition highlights works from these different periods of artistic production while providing a clear and conclusive overview of the themes central to Van Schalkwyk’s practice. Known for his commitment to collaboration ‘Survey’ also includes examples of works and objects made in ‘conversation’ with peers and practitioners from other artistic disciplines.
Having achieved a BA in Historical Studies in 2011 from the University of South Africa during the course of a ten-year painting studio apprenticeship (2003-2013), Van Schalkwyk gleaned a solid understanding of, and respect for history as well as ‘the painterly tradition’. That said he is certainly a ‘painter of his times’ and has throughout his career employed his technical expertise as a painter in the service of contemporary concerns and critique.
Since the conception of his third solo exhibition ‘Eden’ (Barnard, Cape Town, 2015), followed by ‘Arcadia’ (FNB Joburg Art Fair, 2016) and ‘Nemora’ (VOLTA, Basel, 2018) Van Schalkwyk has been concerned with the idea of the exotic and the symbolism of forests and islands. Exploring beyond the surface of these places, the artist challenges our idea of ‘Utopia’ or ‘Paradise’, questioning the western notion that paradise is found in the beauty of exotic landscapes and / or ‘the other’. While reminiscent of 19th century Romantic painting in their depiction of sublime landscapes, the meticulously realized paintings of Jaco van Schalkwyk nevertheless retain their own identity and contemporary relevance.
For much of his career the artist has studied and considered the troubled relationship between man and the natural world he inhabits, bearing witness to the disastrous effects human activity has had on the natural environment. In his vast, absorbing canvases, Van Schalkwyk presents desolate, uninhabited spaces that are simultaneously unsettling and poignantly beautiful. The artist’s ever-evolving exploration of the photorealist technique may be seen to indicate a preoccupation with illusionism – a constant attempt to seamlessly capture reality in paint, to achieve perfection in surface, to master the representation of space and light. But this painterly hyperrealism points to an investigation which functions beyond illusionism, one fascinated with and attuned to the processes of representation itself.
In ‘–arium’ (Barnard, Cape Town, 2017), Van Schalkwyk’s fourth solo exhibition, this consideration of the modes and constructions of representation finds its most complex and multi-faceted expression. Through the use of various media – painting, sculpture, installation, assemblage and film – the artist considers questions of representation both in the artistic endeavour and in the everyday ways we construct and mediate realities around ourselves, our environment and our encounters with ‘the other’. In ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ (Barnard, Cape Town, 2021), those familiar with Van Schalkwyk’s work will at once recognize his characteristic and meticulous attention to detail in the rendering of painted panoramas of dense woodland and wilderness whereabouts. However, on closer observation, it is evident 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.
Throughout his career to date, Van Schalkwyk has, in addition to his solo projects, participated in numerous group exhibitions. His work has been selected for inclusion on curated shows at respected museums and institutions in South Africa, USA, China, France and Switzerland. The artist’s work can be found in the collections of the South African Reserve Bank, University of Pretoria, Absa Bank, Ellerman House, Pretoria Art Museum, Rand Merchant Bank Corporate Collection, University of Johannesburg and the Thomas J. Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.