Die Burger

Cape Town

23 September 2017

Revisiting youth on canvas

There comes a time when our uncertain glimpse at adulthood from the threshold of youth is but a distant memory; the uneasy nudge of social pressure and countless identity conventions faded into comfortable oblivion.

But memory does not always serve us as we edit the frames of our formative years. We choose to remember only that which is good and bearable until deeper introspection reveals an often bumpy road fraught with choices often made in ignorance.

The artist JP Meyer, currently living and working in Porterville, has been boldly revisiting his youth and recording different aspects of this journey on canvas. Although highly personal, a golden thread illuminates his latest body of work that suggests that we, as humans, are perhaps more alike than not.

Wrong Archive, Meyer’s solo exhibition of new oil paintings which opens at the Alex Hamilton studio gallery at 9 Barron Road, Woodstock on 20 September, is an extension of his retrospective Doop/Initiation, which was mounted at last year’s US Woordfees in Stellenbosch.

Life as the young white South African male knew it decades ago serves as background to Meyer’s Wrong Archive, and is a theme that stands central to most of the work which has evolved at his hand in recent times. For years he has been meticulously collecting photographs from newspapers, manuals, encyclopaedias, photo albums and the internet. “The images, ideas, memories and experiences which took shape during the exploration of my archives and painting of my works, planted the seeds for the theme of this exhibition,” he says. “The notion of conformism against individuality is one of the focal points of this new body of work. In our search for identity and security we are drawn to those who share our values, ethnic background, culture, language, religion and more – often perfect ingredients for conflict,” he suggests.

Judging by the title of the exhibition, the images on show are not necessarily a factual record of Meyer’s own past. As is the deceptive nature of memory, they merely represent a time which those who were party to it in his representations – and in fact in any era and most undoubtedly many cultures – would most certainly resonate with the scenes depicted, which range from exuberant young boys and men carelessly enjoying the outdoors to those which highlight the regimented formality of a military parade.

Meyer sees painting as a process of finding meaning through exploration. “The application of paint and the creation of an image in itself is a form of research, which often opens the door to obscure and enigmatic ideas and concepts which can lead to new insights and understanding. To me, that constitutes the wonder of painting,” says Meyer, a great fan of the works of artists such as the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944).

Meyer, who believes process and craftsmanship are as important as conceptualization, has seen a radical reinvention of his method and art through his creative journey; evolving from abstract patterns taking shape with meticulous precision to his current larger-than-life figurative scenes which almost seem to have been completed in haste with scant layers of oil. He admits to painting as fast as possible these days, saying that when he returns to his canvas at a later stage to complete the work, he finds that he can rarely improve on it. “The brisk, spontaneous adding of forms and marks and choice of colour; the impulsive and the incomplete – that’s what drives me these days.”

This new approach driven by impulse and spontaneity somehow echoes those storm and stress years: the sacrificing of youthful innocence and individuality for a more seamless entry into an adult world constrained by boundaries – a loss that nudges with increasing unease as time marches on.

Wrong Archive runs until 20 October.