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review Deborah Poynton Everything Matters ACA Gallery of the Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta, Georgia February 19–March 29, 2009 The South African painter Deborah Poynton’s monumental works deliver a myriad of exploratory avenues in postmodern painting. Touching on personal, social, psychological, and universal subjects, Poynton’s paintings are dedicated to a poststructural examination of active power. A poignant variable is Poynton’s sensibility toward human intimacy, which extends beyond the surface and poses contemporaneous dialogue among subject, viewer, and artist. This is quite enigmatic, as the canvases’ monumentality and the sensitivity of the figures’ formal treatment are equally commanding aspects of her paintings. Poynton’s time at the Rhode Island School of Design helped shape her awareness of the rich complexity of meaning and structure in images and had a profound impact on her development as a painter.1 Everything Matters marks Poynton’s first solo exhibition in the United States and ties together a selection of her most recent paintings that exercises a certain modal power or puissance.2 This framework encourages continuous variation of power potential within Poynton’s complex tableaux. As a way to navigate the exhibition , the concept of power posited by the French philosophers Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) and Félix Guattari (1930–92) can be used to investigate the potential for power as actualized through continuous threads of relations among artist, viewer, and people in Poynton’s paintings. Exploring a variable sensibility of power, such as the one Deleuze and Guattari put forward —one where power can remain continuous yet also vary, through subtle shifts in its trajectory—Poynton’s paintings present a homogeneous system of active power, rather than reactive power, or what imposes one body on another.3 Poynton’s use of active power considers a mode where everything matters and there is a universal exchange of potential relations. As we begin to examine power associations in Poynton’s paintings more closely, it becomes clear that power is a nonlocalizable concept and a multilinear system, one that is not concerned with positing any one figure’s power over another. Rather, by addressing power autonomously, connecting the viewer, model, and herself in various compositions, Poynton intuitively conceives of specific, unforeseen, yet universal tableaux whereby all modes of power are considered.4 Poynton’s active power over her subjects is most obvious in the early development of her paintings. In preparation for a work, the artist begins by selecting models with whom she already has relationships. Then Poynton takes a series of photographs in which she directs the model and makes decisions about the placement of objects Deborah Poynton, Beloved, 2008. Oil on canvas, 200 × 300 cm. Courtesy Michael Stevenson, Cape Town. © Deborah Poynton© 2010 by Nka Publications Journal of Contemporary African Art• 26• Spring 2010 152 • Nka Dziedzic Nka • 153 within space. How she orchestrates their positions and contexts reveals her own active and autonomous authority over the painting. The models sometimes influence the placement of their own bodies; in other instances, Poynton makes adjustments by asking the model to refresh the pose. As a result , the compositions are organized in a reciprocal and intuitive manner; they are scenes that she feels best resonate with her emotions without objectifying the sitter. Poynton’s method for realizing a painting becomes a homogeneous interaction between artist and model, where at times the model represents the artist. Many of Poynton’s paintings provide the viewer with an entry point via the poised gaze of the figure(s), immediately giving context to and establishing a relationship among the artist , the subject, and the viewer. Ilsa, the female figure in Beloved (2008), is a subject Poynton knows very well and paints often. She is someone whom Poynton connects with and who, in some instances, stands in for the artist’s state of being. Ilsa’s forbearing gaze and leaden figure in Beloved evoke a sense of capitulation. She lies on a bed of white linens in a classical reclining pose that recalls similar female nudes from canonical masterpieces of the Renaissance. Poynton’s sensitivity to the play of light over the skin’s folds, veins, and wrinkles emphasizes its delicate translucence and cool tone...


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pp. 152-155
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