Fugitive Marks / 2022
Goodman Gallery, London
Goodman Gallery presents Fugitive Marks, Clive van den Berg’s first solo exhibition in London, in which the artist uses landscape painting as a vehicle with which to unearth suppressed narratives.
Van den Berg’s 40-year practice has formed part of a small movement of artists pioneering the insertion of queer perspectives into the larger rewrite of South African history.
Throughout his practice, the artist has engaged with the idea of the land as a porous receptacle for lived experience. This presentation of new large-scale paintings considers the body and the land as loaded sites which carry memories and scars.
The South African artist’s distinct visual language moves between allegory and abstraction as Van den Berg excavates what exists – unresolved – below the surface. For this exhibition, he returns to the concept of ‘fugitive marks’ which he defines as ‘ghosts from the past co-existing with human beings in the present’.
In this vein, a swelling of earth or a pile of stones that once marked a grave or battle site make up the grammar of his landscape vocabulary: ‘these vestigial mutterings of geography are prompts that I respond to in my work, connecting the remnant to its repressed or forgotten source.’
For Clive van den Berg, land serves as a powerful marker for the anxieties contained in both the personal and the political. The artist seeks to unpack this by separating the idea of land into the spheres of ‘above’ and ‘below’ ground. Using this dichotomy the artist is able to differentiate between what we idealise on the surface, and what exists, unresolved below.
“A swelling of earth, a hollow or dispersed pile of stones that once marked a grave or embattlement, are the grammar of my landscape vocabulary. These vestigial mutterings of geography are the prompts that I respond to in making my work, a kind of interstitial speech, connecting the remnant to its repressed or forgotten source.”
Van den Berg sees the body and the landscape as sites that carry memories and scars. In turn, these remnants evoke desires and prompt questions, which the artist aims to reveal though the process of constructing a painting.
“What makes painting so endlessly interesting and challenging to me is its discursive capacity. Different parts of the same composition can reference widely diverse sources, with varying calls to cognition: ranging from figuration to mapping, surveillance technology, ground penetrating radar, daily press reportage, all mixed with marks blown from their reference, a disrupted syntax”.
Paint itself varies in its substance, at times seeping deeply into the weave of the canvas, at times heavy upon the thread and then again marshaled to description. The artist darts between allegory and abstraction, creating tensions and polarities that simultaneously arrest and excite the viewer when encountering them.
“The incidents represented in my paintings are important to me in the moment of making, a man fleeing a spectacle, spectators at an unseen event, far away drone footage, or the vestiges of a long buried skirmish: echoes upon echoe that encompass, but reach far beyond the present mess of history”.