While Penny Siopis is celebrated as South Africa’s top living painter, Zander Blom, winner of the third Jean-François Prat Prize for contemporary art, Paris, in 2014, is being hailed as one of the most exciting painters to emerge on the local art scene. Both are concerned with exploring the nature of paint and pushing the medium to its limits. Siopis produced this work after her young son suffered severe burns. Thrashing in agitated sleep, as if wrestling with injury, the child’s body is replicated across the surface, indicating the slow passage of time. The close scrutiny of the subject makes one conscious of the anguished mother in this primary trauma, watching over her child and invoking the protection of angels that are assembled in the lower register.
The canvas fragment attached at the centre is a detail from Eugene Delacroix’s The Barque of Dante, depicting the poet crossing the River Styx, supported by Virgil, in a sea heaving with the tormented souls of the damned. As Siopis has pointed out: “The water drops have been the subject of much art historical discussion, because they are pure pigment and not conventionally modelled – unusual for the time. I was drawn to the fragment because of the way it spoke about art and affect. The water marks appear autonomous, abstract and pure gesture on the one hand and on the other hand we know that they are part of a whole picture and serve a descriptive function. There is something very affecting about marks escaping the work... At the time I was interested in questions of representation, especially in so-called high art, and wanted to explore if and how we might still be moved by the very pictures we deconstruct. Juxtaposing the deeply personal images of the bandaged baby with repeated fragments of prints below presented one way of addressing this, as did the association of his bandage with the canvas fragment”.1
1. Artist’s statement in an email to Emma Bedford, 31.10.2014.