Art of the matter: Painting's gone to the dogs

23 February 2016 - 02:17 By Mary Corrigall

Alfonso Gratrix or The_Fonzzzzzz as he is known to his almost 300 Instagram followers initially appears to be as excited as I am to meet him.The famous pug circles my legs and pants before lying down next to Georgina Gratrix's feet.He is the inspiration behind Georgina Gratrix's new exhibition, Puppy Love - a series of portraits and ''painted sculptures" of dogs.Gratrix is gaga for dogs, but the doggy theme has more to do with her desire to avoid making "serious art".Call it a backlash against conceptualism, art or painting itself.Not that she considers herself a painter."I just work with paint," she says.She insists there's a difference between being a painter and using paint.Her installation features a cornucopia of second-hand objects that have been treated to her distinctive impasto painting style, which is defined by excess.She layers on the paint with such abandon that her subject-matter often ends up looking distorted and grotesque."None of my subjects like how they look in my paintings," she observes, while we stand in front of The Misfits, a portrait of a couple with hairy faces reminiscent of Cousin Itt from the Addams Family movies.She admits that this painting is "an anti-painting" - a sort of dark doppelgänger painting born from a commission to do a portrait of a couple to mark their 30th wedding anniversary."I was struggling with it and I wasn't enjoying it, so I started this as a retaliation. But nobody wants a grotesque face in their portrait," she says.Gratrix resists making anything traditionally beautiful.It is as if Gratrix is driven by a perverse pleasure to ''sabotage" her own work and the clichéd motifs she gravitates towards: tropical plants, parrots, dogs and flowers."There's a fine line between loving something and being revolted by it," Gratrix says.This interplay sums up her response to Irma Stern or Maggie Laubser's paintings, which she both abhors and pays homage to through her own interpretation of their aesthetic."I think their work is kitsch."I'm not looking and thinking: 'wow'. But I am moved, I am enthralled, too."I can't stop looking because it is so ugly."It's her process and a dissatisfaction with her own work that prompts her to paint over a painting up to 10 times or more in some cases.These layers might be obscured but the accumulation of thick paint lends her canvases their distinctive sculptural feel.This is why the found-object sculptures on exhibition at Puppy Love seem like a natural extension of her practice.They also allow her to delay settling on a single image and treat her paintings with less reverence as they are reduced to just another set of objects.But she insists she's not making a grand ideological statement with Puppy Love.Instead, she presents something more honest and genuine: Her love for The_Fonzzzzzz - he is lovable, cute, and ugly, just like her work.- Editor's Note: Smac Gallery sponsored the story, though they had no say in its creation. Puppy Love is on at Smac Gallery, Woodstock until April 4.

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