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by Joni Brenner

These intensely red full-length portraits, at once painterly and sculptural continue the series of torsos presented at the 2017 FNB Joburg Art Fair. These new paintings are absolutely aligned with my investigation of looking closely and repeatedly, over and again, to track subtle shifts and changes in myself, my model and my practice. The earlier bony off-white palette gives way to raging reds. The same model is represented on pillar-like canvasses and wooden plinths now taller and narrower. 


Looking and being looked at is at the heart of portraiture. At the core of my repeat practice of working from the same model is a longing to know more and to know more fully, to capture every nuance, and to be known more fully in turn. 


But just as these portraits signal the sitter’s submission to the process of being frankly looked at, they also represent the artist’s submission to the artifice—to the knowledge that the process or the engagement must end, and when it ends the portrait is frozen, despite a stubborn will to make this not so. In this way, each session, and each portrait represents both an intense living quality and an unavoidable loss.


These new red paintings have been conceptualized as series called Hineni. The title directly refers to a song written by Leonard Cohen from his last album ‘You want it darker’, released shortly before his death in 2016. Translating as ‘here I am’ Hineni carries connotations of submission, but written at the end of his life it also evokes transience and loss, themes that have long defined my engagement with the genre. The tall format of these new works recalls too the Giryama figural carved memorial or funerary posts.

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