Chris Denovan at 99 Loop Gallery
Thursday 23 January 2020
In this exhibition of paintings and drawings, Chris Denovan explores the variable symbolism of plants. His motifs of leaves and flowers find an unlikely pairing in those of hands and feet and disembodied limbs. Here, body parts become plants, the expected brushes up against the strange, the recognisable leans towards the unfamiliar.
In Denovan’s paintings, detailed figuration is set against abstract fields of colour. Muted greys and greens are punctuated by a brilliant red common to all his canvases. Working between such saturated colour and muddied hues, Denovan creates rich, textural surfaces. There are moments of impasto paint and transparent veiling, gestural brushmarks and bold geometric forms. There is to his work a distinct pleasure in process – the artist working quickly and intuitively from photographs, both taken and found, to create his vivid compositions.
Denovan’s work pays homage to history painting and Symbolism, and to a classical idealisation of beauty in a contemporary guise. Arranged together in strange tableaux, the characters in his paintings appear as long-forgotten heroes or obscure figures of myth. Many wear wreaths or crowns of flowers, and all share the picture plane with fields of gold pigment, which lends to the works the weight of allegory.
Where the figures in his paintings are reminiscent of Roman sculptures, Denovan’s drawings share the stark simplicity of Grecian urns. Letters of the alphabet appear as flowers, hands and feet as leaves. Vases and vessels coincide – a bowl becomes a boat, a boat a pot for plants. Snakes move between the stalks, limbs grow as fruit on stems. Plants, Denovan’s work suggests, gesture not only towards life and growth but to visual abundance and pictorial excess.
Chris Denovan (b. 1983) lives and works in Cape Town, South Africa. Body Plants is his seventh solo show.