Artist Seth Pimentel throws out the rule book and uses emotion as a guide

'An Ode to Catharsis' marks the most solid effort in this illustrator's steady foray into contemporary art. He talks to Sandiso Ngubane about this striking series of blurred portraits

21 February 2021 - 00:00
By Sandiso Ngubane
A series of portraits from Seth Pimentel’s new exhibit, 'An Ode to Catharsis'.
Image: Supplied A series of portraits from Seth Pimentel’s new exhibit, 'An Ode to Catharsis'.

Whiplash. That's the word that first came to mind as I looked at artist Seth Pimentel's paintings of faces obscured by strokes of colour on canvas and Fabriano. Spray paint imbues the work with a sense of definition, tonal variation and volume.

Some of the portraits look like depictions of the kind of rapid head movement that would result in whiplash. Others are as distortedly kaleidoscopic as an acid trip.

Titled An Ode to Catharsis, Pimentel made this body of work over a few months following a break-up and moving into a new place. It marks the first solo and most solid effort in the illustrator's steady foray into contemporary art.

But what do faces - or portraits, as it were - have to do with an apparent quest to discharge emotion or reconcile one's identity in a time of personal turmoil?

Says the artist: "I've been obsessed with the human face ever since I can remember. The first thing you lay your eyes on when you meet someone is their face. If you deconstruct the structure of the human face, it's two dots and three lines but there's something rad about them - like a soul encapsulated."

In this sense, the artist is leaning in on what's become his signature as an illustrator. "Even with client work I've always figured out how to bring it back to portraiture and make that the focal point of those campaigns instead of doing squiggles or doodles or anything like that."

Another one of Seth Pimentel's paintings from 'An Ode to Catharsis'.
Image: Supplied Another one of Seth Pimentel's paintings from 'An Ode to Catharsis'.

In spite of that, Pimentel is acutely aware that what's worked for him in illustration may not when it comes to contemporary art, and so he sought to throw out the rule book and use emotion as a guide.

"My usual technique is finding a reference image, editing on Photoshop, creating a grid and sketching. Then I would start painting from that reference, but none of these pieces in this body of work have a reference.

"As an illustrator, everything is calculated. Here, I got to experiment with palette knives, broken paintbrushes, different kinds of paper.

"The best part was discovering this cool technique where I would paint the portrait, let it halfway dry, take a piece of cardboard and swipe it down left or right."

Depending on the swipe, Pimentel found that the result would convey "that sense of chaos that I was feeling inside. If I let it dry a bit too long, I'd have a more calculated swipe. If it was still wet it would be more chaotic, but it was all representative of how I was feeling."

Those feelings - rage, melancholy, confusion, solitude, self-interrogation and recalibration - all come into perspective in the form of artworks with titles such as Feeling, Figuring Out the Human Thing, We Were Just Wasting Time, In Transit, Unsettled, Internal Dialogue and the like.

It's a range of emotions so vast it's perhaps enough to cause whiplash, but with An Ode to Catharsis, Pimentel manages to centre the emotional upheaval with a colourful and altogether relatable expression of a continuous process of purgative release.

• Seth Pimentel's 'An Ode to Catharsis' is on exhibition at Kalashnikovv Gallery, Braamfotein, Johannesburg, until February 26