Established South African artist Charisse Gardiner obtained her fine art degree from the University of Cape Town in 1993, the same university as international artist Marlene Dumas graduated from 18 years earlier. Gardiner’s style of painting, the confident mark making, the dry brush strokes set against layers of soft wash remind one of Dumas’s work. Similarities also exist conceptually; the unwavering and unflinching microscope under which Dumas places humanity. However Gardiner’s body of work pulls away and develops its own voice as tensions between family, memory, loss and discovery emerge.
Gardiner’s rich, open-ended narratives induce a haunting sense of nostalgia as if filtered through the blur of a heavy sleep, rendering her figures almost ghost-like. Visual information merges and distorts in a simplification of form and light, identities hover with uncertainly as if slowly slipping away over time.
Ideas of family history suggest something quite personal in Gardiners work. However it becomes clear that these images are quite anonymous and rather that we are offered a window into a journey of our own past as interweave meaning and context into each painting as if journeying through an old photo album. A subdued palette of sepia tones and faded colour further reflects this notion, alluding to the patina of age; silvery whites, pale yellows, grey blues, muted greens and fading browns.
Engrained within this body of work are tensions between loss and discovery. Lost photographs, the loss of the childlike wonder as play transitions into adolescence and a world beyond the suburbs. We see this in the images of children playing out adult lives: a boy mending a toy car in ‘Repair’, 2014, marriage ceremonies in ‘Procession’ and ‘Ritual’, 2014, the escapism of space travel in ‘Spaceman’, 2014. Each suggests the possibilities of the future and building a sense of community as well as learning the founding dynamics of relationships.
Gardiner was raised against a background of political tension and social segregation. Her work gently reflects subsequent themes of political histories, social structure, displacement, home, belonging and power. Where the landscape changes from the vastness and heat of Africa to a cold and industrial Liverpool, the contrast between the two countries is heightened and yet Gardiner’s defining style draws the two together and unifies them in childhood memory; a complex, tapestry narrative.