Louw's paintings are an intense response to notions of identity, testaments to a particular psychological spirit of place and time. Occupying a somewhat paradoxical space, Louw’s ambiguous and vulnerabe figures, set within non-descript and seemingly forsaken landscapes, create a sense of pervading uneasiness. His masterful handling of his chosen materials of oil paint and charcoal draw the viewer in, demanding an emotive engagement.
To understand ‘Der Abschied’, one must first understand the title’s reference, engendered from the work of the famous late-Romantic composer and conductor, Gustav Mahler. In July 1907, a doctor summoned to tend to Mahler’s ailing wife would also examine the composer, discovering the fatal heart condition that killed him less than four years later. Composing the song-symphony Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) in the shadow of this terrible blow, Mahler’s perhaps most well-known piece was “permeated with the bitter taste of mortality”, as observed by Deryck Cooke. The colossal finale of the symphony, known as Der Abschied (The Farewell) – with its dirge-like passages, central funeral-march episode, and dark C-minor tonality – has long been understood as a more or less autobiographical farewell to life, the forbearing reconciliation with an ecstatic, quintessentially romantic death.
‘Der Abschied’ is thus something of a meditation on mortality, manifested through Louw’s characteristically visceral canvases, as well as a new series of charcoal drawings, where the anthropomorphic features of his figures (human and animal) are scrubbed out, veiled by the pooling of deeply-etched shadows.
'Der Abschied' opens on Saturday, 18 November at 10h00, and will be showing at SMAC Gallery Johannesburg until 13 January 2018.