Mediations on memory and meaning

Mediations on memory and meaning

“My work explores the interplay between the conscious and the unconscious, light, texture, colour, the South African landscape and my experience of being in the world,” says Orly Rabinowitz, who has a new exhibition displayed in Cape Town.

Entitled ‘Meditations’, it is a solo exhibition of oil paintings that explore the passage of time, threads of memory, the imprint of humanity and the forces of nature. The exhibition has been running since 20 April and will continue until 20 May, and is on display at the new Culture Urban and Contemporary Gallery at the Woodstock Exchange. “I have so much to express and explore”, says Orly on what motivates her to paint. Her early years were spent in Namibia, where the landscape and environment nurtured her creativity. She graduated from the Michaelis School of Fine Art with a BA (Art) and HDE (Post Graduate for Secondary Education) in 1979, and has art in private collections in South Africa and abroad.

Orly taught art for many years both in England and South Africa, and she started an art school in Cape Town in the 1990s, which grew to accommodate about 150 students. Many of these budding artists were children, and no doubt many Chronicle readers may remember their first experience of art being in Orly’s classes.

Absorbing influences

Indeed, Orly’s interaction with the world and her view of art as a way to reach others influences her work. Her initial starting point is always her own inner world; and the paintings certainly bring the atmosphere of the unconscious onto the canvas. At the same time, outside influences do seep in and infuse the work. For example, when Anene Booysen was brutally raped and killed; Orly was painting a work entitled ‘Do You See Me?’, and the face in the painting reflects fear, ferocity and femininity all at once.

Through works such as these, the viewer is invited to explore wider themes beyond the images. Thus, ‘Do You See Me?’ asks us to question who we do not see, whether it be in a political, personal or physical way. Ultimately, Orly aims to bring opposites together and explore relationships through painting, from a state of tension to symbiosis. Man merges with nature, the subject matter drifts between the personal and the communal, and even her methods are often juxtaposed. She uses mixed media to paint, and her style ranges from playful to restrained. “I don’t want to be confined by expectations or a single style,” she explains — a principle epitomised by the artist she most admires, Gerhard Richter. “He doesn’t think about societal acceptability and his paintings vary from hyper-realistic to completely abstract,” she says.

From the inner to outer world

Orly’s work combines both of these ideals. Her portraits are extremely evocative, but she never works from references, only her imagination. Indeed, the series in ‘Meditations’ speaks to and reflects the deep inner world within all of us. While this is profoundly personal; it also has the effect of making the viewer feel connected to others. By looking at these paintings, we can access the humanity within all of us, and recognise both our individuality and our unity. To young people who want to succeed in the art industry, Orly advises that they “be focused yet experimental. Believe in your own vision. It may be a long road, but keep going. It can also be very painful, so know why you’re doing it.” Orly feels that the art world in South Africa is “extremely exciting. The variety of work and the ability and creativity of the artists make this the most exciting place in the world for art!” she says. Indeed, if the versatility, power and quality of Orly’s art is anything to go by, her contribution to art in South Africa is as exciting as it is important.

“Art can be a catalyst for seeing other perspectives, and bringing opposites together. It is a form of human connection,” says Orly. If anything, these are the kind of artists we need in South Africa, and Orly Rabinowitz certainly plays that role.

‘Meditations’ is exhibited until 20 May at the Culture Urban & Contemporary Gallery, Woodstock Exchange, 66 Albert Road, Woodstock. Tel: 0214473523 Web: Gallery hours: Tue-Fri:10am-5pm, Sat: 10am-2pm. Visit to see a selection of Orly’s works.