Early autumn after the summer harvest, Twee Jonge Gezellen is particularly quiet. Nature’s silent alchemy left in stillness to begin its ancient work. After a year of pause and apprehension, my work is informed by a dreamlike state of deceleration, of stillness and slumber.
Art is born in the mental space of freedom and this particular rural setting offered me the physical space to roam at will so very far from the city, especially at night.
Elements of the nocturnal farm seep into my work, sometimes literally, sometimes symbolically.
The ravine, the dam, the vineyards.
Dimly-lit Spider Lilies and fragrant hallucinogenic Brugmansias.
Even my palette would adapt to more midnight blues, Payne’s grey, cerulean blue, deep ochre.
Often during my time on the farm, I am reminded of my favourite Emily Dickinson poem: We Grow Accustomed to the Dark, which is a celebration of human ability to adjust to uncertainty.
It is a true gift to be able to pause in silence and disconnect from routine to find a deeper connection between art, nature and self.
- Sanell Aggenbach
Sanell Aggenbach’s work deals primarily with the intersection of history and private narratives by considering the process of recall and interpretation. Her work displays an accomplished virtuosity as she moves comfortably between the various disciplines of painting, printmaking and sculpture and since 2003 she has focused mainly on subverted feminine tropes and feminist themes. Aggenbach currently lives and works in Woodstock, Cape Town.
We dive deeper into Sanell Aggenbach’s experience during her Artist Residency Programme.
Initially I didn’t know it would be possible to have a career as an artist, most artists I knew were either teachers or lecturers. I taught printmaking for four years and gradually produced exhibitions and pursed a career as a full-time artist.
For me art-making is a deeply intuitive process of making sense of the world, either politically, socially or aesthetically. It’s therapeutic, exhausting and satisfying, but unlike regular therapy there is a physical object at the end the journey!
Too many to mention! I have wonderful artists friends whom I admire, my children keep me grounded and constantly remind me to not be too serious. My husband (also an artist) is my proverbial wingman – we constantly bounce ideas off each other.
Deceleration and pause. If anything, darkness is a metaphor for apprehension where the unfamiliar offers the opportunity to contemplate and take stock. The last 16 months of the Covid pandemic and lockdown has been twofold; the anxiety of not knowing what to expect and the reminder that we need to be kinder to ourselves, the environment and each other. There is no plan B.
Over the years I have a better understanding of how to embrace chance, intuition and fluidity in my work. All my botanical references are stumbled on by chance. I work from my own photographic references and if I wait too long to photograph a bloom, the moment is lost.
When I work with figurative subjects, each body of work requires different approaches… I referenced my own family snapshots for an exhibition called Familia Obscura (2013), unknown nude models for Sub Rosa (2008) and private intimate photography for The Heart Has Many Rooms (2019). Currently I am working from my own collection of vintage black and white snap shots, collected from pawnshops, flea markets and thrift stores. The anonymity of these subjects is part of the intrigue.
My painting and sculpture processes are completely different. When I start working on a 3D shape for a bronze cast I have a very clear image in my head of what the finished work will look like and in a sense I work backwards in order to achieve the correct scale and finish. Painting is very different. Painting is a long dialogue of endless layering and adding textures and skins, each revealing the previous layer and impression. I can easily spend up to twelve months on a single work until I finally sign it off. It’s wonderfully frustrating at times!
Quite a few! I loved walking in the ravine and gardens at dusk and photographing beautiful fauna, including spider lilies and moonflowers, which I then ended up painting. I loved their hallucinogenic quality and witchy shapes. In another work I incorporated the shadows of the studio burglar bars into a figurative work.
I arrived at Twee Jongen Gezellen in early autumn just after the summer harvest. Winemaking in itself is an art, a marriage of alchemy, fermentation, science, environment and timing. Even though the farm was particularly quiet over time – there was always this underlining sense of a slow process at work. In a small way I felt that I could tap into these slow and measured cycles without the pressure of producing completed works. Only to harvest them later.