PAULA LOUW: EXPLODED ART
by Jonny Boys
Paula Louw went to college and studied art right out of highschool, then she graduated, got married and had children. It wasn't until later in life that she earned her MFA from University of the Witwatersrand (or Wits as the locals call it). While attending Wits she was invited to be part of a contest which landed her a spot in a show in a conservative art gallery, where she showed her first typewriter piece. She said the owner of the gallery specifically went to Wits looking for contemporary artists.
The gallery asked her to begin showing her art with them, which she did. It turned out that the gallery was Everard Read, one of the oldest most respected galleries in South Africa. About two years later Everard Read built a new oval building called The CIRCA on Jellicoe Gallery, and she was asked to show there. So she had the best of both worlds. She said “I'm not like the other emerging artists I'm not young and I don't have all those years there, so it's fantastic, I'm so excited!” Gallerist Mark Read is working to expand the reach of her work, most recently taking selected works to the India Art Fair and they are looking at bringing her work to the United States. She said Mark has such a great grasp on the market and his collectors that many times she will go to a show before it opens and the work is sold.
Her initial interest was with exploded view pieces involving typewriters. Her interest in typewriters is twofold. First, her sister and two of her sons went oversees. She had to learn emailing and text messaging in the late 1990's. While communicating like this was wonderful it sometimes formed a barrier to communication. Misunderstandings arise because things are written so quickly and words are abbreviated. Secondly her father was the general manager of Olivetti Typewriters in South Africa. Her father loved words. He used to make her lug the giant Shorter Oxford English Dictionary down the stairs when she was young. On Sunday's he would bring up these words which no one believed were real and he would look them up. He used to read it for pleasure, he really enjoyed it. All of that combined for her love of typewriters and pulling them apart to create other things.
Louw noticed in 2010 that South Africa had forgotten the foundation on what it had been founded on. She began finding writings by Nelson Mandela and creating pieces out of wire and plexiglass. One day she received a text message from the police that told her there was an amnesty allowing for citizens with unregistered guns to dispose of them with the authorities. This was because South Africa had recently changed the law requiring permits and training for all hand gun owners. She purchased a revolver in 1993, put it in a safe, never touched it and never fired it, she said it wasn't really who she was but a friend convinced her to purchase it. Her husband told her that she should remove the firing pin so that it couldn't be used once it was turned in and it got her thinking about the dismantling of violence. So she decided she would pull apart deactivated guns and display them in her own unique way. She had a gun smith pull the gun apart and she set to work making the pieces. They are completely unique. I've not seen anything like this before, it is very technical and raw.
She was asked to create works for a solo show at The CIRCA on Jellicoe Gallery in 2011.
A friend told her that the space was so large that many times it swallows the art, so she decided she absolutely needed to put something in the middle of the gallery. She decided her subject would be a piano. So she asked Read if she could delay her show by six months so she could approach her solo show from a different perspective. Armed with more time the hunt was on for a piano. After a somewhat exhaustive search she realized they had an old piano in their home, that didn't work that well. She asked her husband if she could use it for her work and he said, “Yeah go for it!”. The task at hand was a bit scary for her. Working in a space in her home they are converting to a studio was limiting to the work, so she ended up working on it in her
Once she had the piano apart and selected which pieces to keep and which to leave out, she had an engineer design and build a grid to be used in conjunction with the gallery's lift wench to suspend the piece. Louw had to plan out as best she could how the piece would hang, but she said it was a necessity to be in the space to see how it would display correctly. She had an assistant help her hang each piece from the grid using cables, an unintentional reference to the strings on the inside of a piano. She always works with cable in her work. She noted that touching the pieces make the whole work dance, which was an added novelty to the piece.
The work, “Re-Deconstructivist”, is magnificent, suspended against the rounded white walls of the space, allowing light to create more shapes and shadows adding further depth to the piece. Each hammer is representational of musical notes exploding out of the piano. It provides such a serenity to the viewer, there is peace in the chaos, quite lovely.
“With the piano, I very much wanted to have lots of shadows...that's what is in my other work, it's quite vital because it's got to do with this tactile but then virtual. You can touch it and reach it but then the other part you can't.”
You can find more of Paula's work at: