Working Under Devil’s Peak

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Liza Grobler’s bold monotypes display ambivalence, spontaneity and a tongue-in-cheek approach to imagery

– Warren Edition monotypes at Daddy Longlegs, Cape Town

(Veronica Wilkinson, The Sunday Argus, 23/11/2008)
Equally at home draped in her Dutch Reformed grandfather’s black vestments acting out performance pieces in Oudtshoorn during the 2004 Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunsfees or in her studio in Observatory, Liza Grobler is artist in residence at the Bijou Art Studios, where she shares studio space with a view of Devil’s Peak beneath an industrial area that doubles as an installation site. Grobler teaches conceptual drawing at the architecture faculty of Cape Town University and is exhibiting on a group show at the UCA Gallery in Observatory until Friday and the Daddy Longlegs Boutique Hotel in Long Street, Cape Town – the latter with Tom Cullberg – until the end of November.

She has extensive collaborative experience in both the educational and fine art arenas, with practical work combining the use of waste materials and skills development for former historically disadvantaged groups, some of whom execute her designs the create large beaded panels. Most of these are commissions for corporate collections like Spier, Hollard and Nando’s, among others.

Grobler studied fine art at the University of Stellenbosch, graduating with a master’s degree in 1999. She has travelled to America, Finland, Norway and Switzerland to perform, participate in residencies and exhibit.

She has teamed up with Warren Editions, a recently opened print studio on the corner of Dorp and Bree Streets in town, to produce the monotypes currently on exhibition. Over four days she produced over 21 monotypes at the WE studios where expert advice and assistance are able to free artists from technical constraints as their plates and prints are prepared for them.

Artists are required to do their own drawing and design in an environment that encourages spontaneity and experimentation. The WE studios purpose is to introduce artists who are not primarily printmakers to the mediums of etching and monotype by working closely with them to develop images as optimum quality prints.

Tom Cullberg’s etchings are also fine art print originals produced in numbered editions, which can vary slightly from print to print depending on the way the print is loaded with ink and hand-wiped. A metal plate, which had been incised and “bitten” with acid into the exposed linework or areas to be shaded, is positioned on a steel bed before it is covered with damp paper and a felt blanket and then is rolled through the etching press. The resulting print bears a reverse image of the design or drawing.

Grobler’s style is an interesting mixture of spontaneity and subconscious imagers that spills on to surface in scribbled impulses that capture familiar likenesses and often humorous explorations.

As the mother of eight-month-old son Storm, she wrestles with ambivalent emotion, resulting in images of floating udders and archetypical fertility figures made up of multiple breasts.

Presenting her insight into an Afrikaner heritage fearing extinction, tongue-in-cheek manifestations become public work. During the 2004 Oudtshoorn arts festival she made orange, white and blue pompoms; each with a tag reading “Ek is nie ‘n pommie nie” (I am not a pommy), which she placed at random round the little town. Her reward for this ‘public intervention’ was observing the responses from excited children who actively sought and collected the coloured balls, and adults who appreciated the humour and craft that had gone into their making.

Last year she collaborated with Jeanne Hoffman for the museum show in Rauma, Finland, in a project entitled Afrikan Tähti: Digging for Gold. Re-using signs from last year’s Cape Art Biennale, a “treasure hunt” based on the most popular board game in Finland proved to be popular with locals and featured on the front page of a Finnish newspaper.

The game involves players searching for gems with the flip of a token determining twists of fate that range from being robbed to actually finding the legendary diamond Star of Africa, and then returning it to Cairo or Tangiers. The winner is the player who gets back to their destination first, bearing either diamond or a horseshoe.

Adventurous use of materials to create “ absurd objects that you can deposit in real life” include her raining sun from the Icarus Project  in collaboration Norman O’Flynn, with 1.7 km of ribbon and her Teardrop Project in Solothurn, Switzerland, which needed 1500 pipe cleaners. She was responsible fir the pebbles with coloured crocheted “jackets” re-deposited gently on Milnerton beach ofter she had used them in an installation.