16/08/2017 - 09/09/2017

Sonia Payes

Sonia Payes
Minerva in Copper


type C print, metallic paper

112.00 x 163.00 cm




I learnt many years ago that artists make terrible tourists. Finding themselves in a strange land, tourists gawk and gosh. But artists already come from a strange land – the canvases of their over-active visual acuity. Artists, unlike tourists who escape to their air-conditioned rooms, cannot help but find ways to interact and express their fascination. Artists don’t gawk and gosh, they click and sketch.

But Payes found a secondary problem. Where her journeys and adventures allow her to unveil her core fascinations – rebirth and transformation – Africa is a land where such events are abundant and already transparent.

Yes, Payes had her National Geographic shot of the hippopotami, but you won’t see that here. What you will see are muddy islands in a dark grey lake or ripples of water suggest some dark presence beneath the surface yet when they do surface, they become as mysterious as the Loch Ness monster transported to the Serengeti. She calls these works Morph because that is indeed what is happening, they are morphing into other-worldly, alien, mutant creatures.

Payes has long been tinkering with her subjects undergoing transformations. Her multi-hued warriors – rendered in cyan, red and green – are clearly of the same species of stoic and silent guardians of an alien world and perhaps protectors of her sculpture, multi-faced women rendered in black, white, gold and copper. In her Minerva works these women stare out from sheets of ectoplasmic material, witnessing evens in another dimension, that of our own.

Payes’ faces and heads, based initially on her daughter’s visage, represent a clan of motherly protectors, imbued with silent powers. In her Lenticular series of prints they suggest a powerful jury in judgment of human kind. In Corn & Quarries they cluster and ascend as religious totems. The work was initially inspired by a period of time in China in 2012 where Payes undertook a residency in Beijing. Payes took the opportunity to travel widely, witnessing widespread environmental degradation.

“Sonia Payes is a strange and unconventional artist – obsessive, brooding and technically provocative – with a huge capacity to opt for an idea and taking it through to its logical, and at times, illogical, conclusion,” wrote critic Sasha Grishin in The Article. “When you are informed that the main subject in this exhibition is her adult daughter Ilana (born 1982), then possibly alarm bells will sound. However, the model is not fetishized, the mother and daughter link remains privileged information, rather than self-evident in the content of the show and a Freudianminded viewer would leave with slim pickings.”

Payes’ daughter/goddess stares out at us, occasionally blinking, an icon of seeing, a witness to a world in peril. She comes in many forms and in all dimensions, suggesting a potent omnipotence. From Africa to China, Sonia Payes’ inspirations are multitudinous but her vision is singular and steadfast.

– Dr. Ashley Crawford, 2017

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