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Painter Gabrielle Kruger on Pushing the Boundaries of Contemporary Art and the Beauty of the Natural World

With acrylic paint as her chosen medium, artist Gabrielle Kruger opened up her studio for an afternoon with House & Garden SA

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By House & Garden South Africa | February 9, 2024 | Art

In a conversation between world class art curator Elana Brundyn and contemporary painter Gabrielle Kruger, the two unpack Kruger’s thoughts on art, her influences and family DNA.

Gabrielle Kruger is an artist whose work challenges the boundaries of acrylic paint. Her exceptional talent ties in her ability to transform liquid paint into a tangible fabric, which she then sculpts into landscapes that are both captivating and, paradoxically, reminiscent of plastic.

Gabrielle Kruger's art explores fascinating dualities and contrasts. She pushes the boundaries not only of our understanding of a well-known medium but also of what we consider natural or synthetic.

Her artwork portrays scenes of natural worlds, all meticulously crafted from acrylic paint. The textures and colours in her art reflect a deep appreciation for nature's beauty, untouched by human-made creations. Yet, these very scenes, moulded from a material associated with pollution, prompt discomfort about the future of our natural landscapes.

Waste is kept at a minimal as every part of the paint is used. Styling by Sanri Pienaar. Photography by Inge Prins.

It's a stark reminder of the plastic landscapes emerging in our environment, such as the synthetic islands floating in our oceans.

She doesn't pass judgment on whether human impact on the earth is 'good or bad. It simply reflects the reality of the Anthropocene, an era defined by irreversible, human-induced changes to our planet. Regardless of what efforts we make to combat pollution and the climate crisis in the future, our landscapes will forever be a blend of the natural and the synthetic. Kruger's art becomes a contemporary representation of this ever-changing world.

Your work has redefined a well-known medium, bringing a fresh perspective to it. Who inspires you in innovative mediums and material use?

The studio space is a hub for Kruger's creative experiments. Styling by Sanri Pienaar. Photography by Inge Prins.

As far as I know, there aren't many contemporary artists working with paint in a similar way. I stumbled upon this technique through experimentation and play, drawing inspiration from historical artists like Gerard Richter, Bram Bogart, and Anselm Kiefer who revolutionised painting. In the contemporary art scene, I'm particularly influenced by artists who explore the materiality of their mediums and innovate traditional techniques (like Penny Siopis with glue and ink paintings) or repurpose recycled materials (such as El Anatsui's bottle cap installations and Bronwyn Katz's sculptures from mattress springs). South African artists, including those featured in the 2020 exhibition 'Matereality' curated by Andrea Lewis, which I was fortunate to be part of, at the Iziko Museum, showcase innovative approaches to materiality.

Gabrielle's multi-layered piece of art is rich in texture and dimension. Styling by Sanri Pienaar. Photography by Inge Prins.

Your art often addresses the concept of the Anthropocene and the malleability of the natural environment due to human impact. How do you feel about the ongoing changes that human activity is causing in the natural world?

We live in a world where human intervention has drastically redefined 'nature', causing devastating changes. However, I believe we also have the power to make positive alterations. As an artist, addressing sustainability is crucial to me, focusing on issues like environmental endangerment, plastic pollution, climate change, and species decline. My main concern is how to convey these concerns in my work without contributing to environmental pollution, given the plastic-like material I use. In my studio, I'm conscientious about my materials, recycling them creatively. For instance, I repurpose dried paint cut from one painting into another, and I transform dried paint in my buckets into sculptures instead of washing them.

I'll let it dry and peel all the remaining paint to make these 'paintiglomerates' of paint that I create sculptures with.

I know that creativity runs in your family, with your talented sister in jewellery design, a brilliant textile designer mother and star-architect father. Were you encouraged to be creative from a young age?

I've known I wanted to be an artist since childhood, as my parents affectionately called me a little artist. My dad, who had his own studio, inspired me by painting and replicating masters like Velasquez and Cezanne. I learned to paint by copying his work. Creativity has always been central in our family, and my parents encouraged my sister and I to pursue creative careers. We were fortunate to travel abroad from a young age, visiting art museums and architectural landmarks.

As I grew older, my mom and I explored international galleries, art fairs, and biennales for inspiration. My parents unwavering support drives me, even though it comes with high expectations. My love for plants and nature was nurtured during visits to my grandparents in Mpumalanga, where my creative grandmother and grandfather instilled a deep appreciation for the environment. I still use the portable easer my grandpa built for me when I paint outdoors.

It's interesting how you seem to possess both a systematic scientific approach and creative, intuitive mindset. How was this developed, and how do you balance the two?

During my master's degree at Michaelis a few years ago, I focused on exploring paint in its purest form. I started by peeling dried house paint, but it became brittle over time.

Part of Gabrielle's process is to leave strips of paint out to dry before using them in her artworks. Styling by Sanri Pienaar. Photography by Inge Prins.

This led me to investigate the structure of acrylic paint, and I collaborated with a local manutacturer to develop a more flexible and durable paint for my needs. I've immersed myself in this medium for the past six years, constantly learning through experimentation in the studio. The most intriguing works often arise spontaneously during playtul exploration.

Contemporary art holds a unique allure for me due to two primary factors. Firstly, contemporary artists continually push the boundaries of their craft by experimenting with novel techniques and styles, captivating viewers with their innovative creations. Secondly, contemporary art tends to be more approachable than traditional forms, as it deals with topics that are relevant to contemporary society. Gabrielle's art encapsulates the very essence of this captivating appeal. "

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