Tracy Payne’s work explores ways of representing emotion; the artist considers conventional portraiture to be lacking in this regard. The serial format of these watercolour and charcoal drawings points to a key influence in Payne’s art: film and video art. The twelve portraits in Let Them Out suggest a sequencing of frames from a film or a series of hand-coloured images printed from an old-fashioned 35mm film negative. “Unlike conventional portraiture, the narrative-driven film is a medium in which intense emotions are frequently enacted. At the same time the viewer with a remote control has the ability to slow down or halt time, to linger over or analyse the otherwise transient.”1 Payne invites audience participation in unlocking the meaning of the work. The theoretical term for this is called ‘relational aesthetics’.
The open-mouthed, wide-eyed expressions on the subject’s face, and his location behind a fence of wire mesh, suggest a situation fraught with horror, danger or extreme anger that is the source of his intense emotional state. The images involuntary invoke the agit prop, resistance, or protest art of the late 1970s and early 1980s by such artists as Norman Catherine and Judith Mason. Catherine’s screaming faces, with bared, snarling, fang-like teeth, sometimes depicted with a bright red blindfold over the eyes, are positioned behind a wire mesh fence, signifying helplessness and anger or a perpetual state of catatonic immobility under a repressive political regime. Mason depicts roaring animals behind chicken wire, especially in the art she produced while staying in Dal Josafat in the Western Cape, an area plagued with violent crime. Payne’s subject is no less traumatised than the faces in the works by these two artists.
These images are of the Benin-born actor Djimon Houndsou in his role as Solomon Vandy in the 2006 film Blood Diamond.
Stevenson, Cape Town, May 2009.
KZNSA Gallery, Durban, Harbour: The Expression of Containment in Contemporary South African Art, 29 March 2009 to 19 April 2009.