Dec 06 2010
Aung San Suu Kyi by Gavin Rain

Aung San Suu Kyi by Gavin Rain

Worldart is privileged to be the first to show the result of a project that has taken Gavin Rain more than a year to refine and complete – a portrait of a remarkable woman whom some refer to as Asia’s Nelson Mandela; Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi is an opposition leader from Burma/Myanmar, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and had been held under house arrest for 15 years before she was released on 13 November 2010.
There are obvious social and moral issues that inspired Gavin to do this portrait and that makes it a painting to take note of. It is clever, thought-provoking and even beautiful.
Those familiar with his work will notice that this painting is stylistically different from any work he has done before.

Instead of the shaded pixelated works that characterised his first works (2004 to 2007) or the layered cityscapes that followed (2007 to 2010), his new style explores the luminosity of colours, its combinations and its ability to create images that may not be obvious in plain sight, but once looked at and understood, reveal striking information to complete the viewer’s experience of the painting. Each dot represents the flag of a country, with every country on the planet represented on the canvas. At first glance, the viewer sees colourful dots, but on closer inspection will see Suu Kyi’s face – an almost ghost like image reminding us that her story can be anybody’s story, and that the world stood by while she was being silenced.

The painting is currently on show at the Worldart gallery in Cape Town and can also be viewed here: http://www.worldart.co.za/artists/gavin-rain/

In his own words, Gavin explains the painting like this:

“The Aung San Suu Kyi project started a year or two ago when I did a painting of her and dropped it off at the Worldart Gallery in Church Street, Cape Town. Usually one ruminates about a piece until it sells, then things move on. Things never did. I thought about Suu Kyi constantly. How could I help? I could donate money… but I could also do more than that. I could find a way to make her plight more visible. I decided to do a series of paintings, 15 in fact – one for each year of her house arrest, and send them all over the world. Everyone has heard of Nelson Mandela. Why was she so unknown? An important part of the message I wanted to convey was that all nations have a role to play when it comes to such a noble cause.

I set about creating a concentric circle version of every flag for every country. Each one had to be unique. These stylised dots would make the image.

Usually my work requires smaller or larger dots to make an image, a bit like a woodcut, but in this case I augmented this – the image would also be formed by the luminosity of all these flags. I set about determining the luminosity of every flag in the world. Is red-yellow-red-yellow-red darker or lighter than blue-white-blue-white-blue? I had to find out. At a distance, one’s eye will merge all these colours together – and return a lightness value – I simply needed to know what this value was.

Armed with this knowledge I then combined this with varying the size of the dot, as a way of augmenting my original pointillist technique. The process of discovery took me through 228 painting plans – roughly 6 months of work before Suu Kyi emerged, her image created and upheld by every country, every ambassador, yet hidden in plain sight from up close.

It seems like I timed it, or had foregone knowledge, but the day she was released (and let’s hope it’s for good this time) was the first time I could step back and see if all the calculations I’d done had actually worked. She stared out at me – as I backed away from the painting to gain distance; all the countries dissolved and her (now very familiar) visage appeared. Yes, via all sorts of media people are more aware of her these days. I hope these paintings can at least serve as a reminder when the often fickle media, with their myopic attention, move onto something else. By the way, let me share two facts with you: 1. South Africa has the most colours of any flag in the world. 2. The least political colour is purple.”

– Gavin Rain, Cape Town, 2010.

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