In 2018, I applied to the Association for Visual Arts Gallery's ArtReach program and exhibited works created before and during my week long residency in Cape Town. I was mentored by Bonolo Kavula, artist, curator.
I asked Scott Eric Williams to write a review of the show as he served as one of my mentors, yes, but also because he is an incredible writer. I wanted someone to write from a place of knowing me, but also really look at the work, disregarding the relationship at least in part. So, trying to tie things together, with no strings attached.
If you are an artist and would like Scott to write a professional critique of your work, which you can use on your website like this, or in proposals, email him email@example.com.
The review entitled "On the Other Side of Deep Waters- Paintings by Yvette Hess" follows:
On the other side of deep waters - the paintings of Yvette Hess
By Scott Eric Williams
Full disclosure – At the time of writing this piece I do so as one of Yvette Hess’s mentors. To some this proximity to my subject might present an issue of objectivity, a lack of criticality. To me, it presents an opportunity to develop a closer insight into an artist’s works thus far.
I have been shown many works in progress, had many conversations about both the artistic process and art industry with the artist. I have even written smaller pieces about her work before –As an art professional I know her work better than anyone else. Big claim, yeah?
It can be hard to make any real claims about the work of an emerging artist since there is still so much experimentation , so much discovery and directions are still busy “setting”. At the early stages artists who have chosen to practice professionally are finding their feet stylistically and their relation to thematic content is still busy forming. However, within the collection of works shown in a ‘first solo exhibition’ there MUST be an emergent thread that hints at what’s to come - If the viewer is observant. In this light - what makes Yvette Hess’s first solo exhibition at the Association for Visual Arts in Cape Town interesting is that much of the work presented in this show signifies the beginnings of a shift in approach.
Prior to this exhibition most of Yvette’s work consisted of seaside scenes and flowers but Yvette had enlisted the help of several mentors to help her develop her artistic practice – and - the more focused approach saw a development in her thematic approach. In the early stages of our relationship Yvette expressed a desire to move her art towards “work that said something”. She has found that something.
Yvette’s practice includes mental health activism which is driven mainly by writing from experience on the topics of Bipolar Disorder and alcoholism. In the context of being a wife, a mother, a daughter…pick a hat – the act of sharing information and resources serves the need to confront mental health taboos by speaking the unspeakable with a candidness and openness that can come across as over-sharing. The honesty in Yvette’s art work forms part of the greater purpose of her activism. At times the approaches to managing mental health issues also require support groups to fill the role of providing the sufferer with environments where retellings of their intimate moments of suffering allow others to feel a sense of relief and calm through empathetic sharing. Within the Artreach Chapter 1 solo exhibition at the AVA there are many works where the intimacy of one’s posture in/during suffering is shared with similar intent.
In the series of faceless “any-women” in the red dress Yvette relates the subtleties of body language which can encompass the whole person during an ‘episode’. Within these visual descriptions of the depressive body language we can see “the connection between… physical behaviour and what is on your mind”… and How the sufferer might… “explain difficult thoughts easily and comfortably express feelings which might have been left unspoken.” The interplay of the physical and intellectual will provide a full and engaging experience of communication” (Goldman, 2004) Through the highlighting of these non-verbal aspects of communication we, as the audience, are helped along in our interpretation of –and the expansion of our knowledge of the near-‘unsayable’ effects of such immobilizing conditions as ‘Bipolar’, depression and the like. We are being asked to adjust our own levels of empathy and our conventions of how society expects someone with an illness to behave. Perhaps in our own reflection on Yvette’s paintings of these faceless women we can come closer to putting a face to the diagnosis.
Within her paintings we are also shown the recurrence of bodies of water whether they are a bathtub filled with water, a lake or the endless expanse of the ocean. In their impressionistic existences on Yvette’s canvases we are moved to feel the hope of cleansing from the stigmas associated with mental illness – to be healed by the water’s recuperative powers. ..to ‘come up’ from the waters cleansed of the defining label of mental health sufferer….a cleansing of societal expectations of a “good” mother, “good” wife, “good” daughter who simultaneously has to contend with her condition.
Artworks that deal with this struggle of feminine roles also appear in the rest of Yvette’s solo. About 6 of the artworks were created within the week of the exhibition’s installation as late inclusions. They are characterized by a shock of colours, metallic hues reminiscent of bold nail polish and lipstick – an undoubtedly feminine statement. The metaphor of ‘statement’ is also enlarged by the new approach to inclusion of text in one work and as installation directly onto the gallery wall. Yvette Hess’ work emerges at a time when patriarchal structures are being challenged like never before.
Through the observation of Yvette’s view we are urged to challenge our stereotypes of ‘difficult’ women who suffer from mental illnesses. Likewise, her artworks have the power to move us with gentle, subtle urgings to evaluate the demands we place on women. “Femininity and delicacy, all of these qualities are not respected on a grand scale. We don’t really have a cultural history of [appreciating] …let’s call it, people who fully embody their art and their work in ways that express their femininity.” – Street Artist, SWOON in an interview with InStyle, May 2018
By way of autobiographical content Yvette Hess’ work is a reflection on the realities of contemporary womanhood. We are allowed to imagine what womanhood hopes for, what it might hope for on the other side of the murky, dark depths of patriarchy’s expanse.