Painting as a Way of Speaking

Posted by Virginia Shore
June 19, 2010
Detail of Cries and Whispers By South African Artist Jo Smail

About the Author: Virginia Shore serves as Chief Curator for ART in EMBASSIES. ART in EMBASSIES curates temporary exhibits and permanent collections of art for U.S. embassies, consulates and chief-of-mission residences.

All eyes are on South Africa this week as teams compete for the World Cup. The intensity of emotions is palpable. Sometimes expressed in fist-pumping, flag-waving yells of triumph. Other times hidden from view.

How does a life-changing moment change your point of view?

Here's what South African artist Jo Smail told us…

“Several years ago I lost all my paintings in a fire. That's when I began the pink paintings. Pink seemed appropriate: new skin -- new beginnings -- baby girl -- first steps. I began drawing very simple units. I was trying to paint the thing we cannot speak about -- love.

"Then I had a stroke. I could not communicate any way at all. Now the pale colors represent a literal silence. The blacks break the silence. It is a way of speaking. I show the identity of things in my world. 'Cries and Whispers' was painted one year after my stroke. I finished it the week of September 11th. The images on the TV and the newspapers are seared in my mind. So I named the painting after the Bergman film, Cries and Whispers.”

The Department of State acquired Jo Smail's ‘Cries and Whispers' for its permanent collection in U.S. Consulate General Johannesburg. Permanent collections showcase art by outstanding local artists side-by-side with works by American artists. Smail taught at the Johannesburg College of Art and the University of Witwatersrand. She joined the faculty of the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1988.


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