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Joni Brenner



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Title: Start
Medium:  Monoprint (five printed panels adhered to cotton fabric backing)
Paper size: 26.8 x 182 cm
Edition size: 1/1

“In 2022 I held a solo exhibition at the SMAC Gallery in Johannesburg that I called Between you and me: four models in the studio, which was an acknowledgement of sorts, or a looking back at my long-standing practice of painting portraits of four different models each of whom have shown up over and again for months and years on end. The process creates a deep sense of familiarity and the confidence that comes with knowing a subject well.

When I decided to turn my gaze on myself, making self-portraits – monoprints and lithographs – during ten days at the Artist’s Press, I should have known that an unfamiliar medium and an unfamiliar subject would create some kind of chaos (internal and external).

It’s odd to think of oneself as an unfamiliar subject, but self-portraiture is complex in a specific way. When I looked in the mirror, I felt confused about who I was seeing – is this the inner me, the me I know, or is this the me that others see? Are we the same thing? Of course, we aren’t, but why did these portraits come out the way they did, as if I had no say, or no ability to capture something in between? I felt confused because I don’t feel severe or aggressive or confrontational or hard. And yet. The portraits are difficult images.

In between working on the monoprints, Scott Hazelhurst, one of the four long term models and the subject of several paintings, modeled for two of the new lithographs and that felt like a relief and a return to more stable ground. Soft washes are overlaid onto the harder drawn lines, a slow layering softening the linear marks – a blend of structure and emotion, I felt I was able to capture something of his presence.

Back to the monoprints, I struggled with why I didn’t have the same ease of capacity, or perhaps the same compassionate view of myself. I really wanted these portraits to look like me – but what does that mean? I kept trying to correct them, to recover them, to soften their harshness, to find a way of having both the intense scrutiny that is part of making portraits, and a broad sweep lighter impression. You have to sit with and know the struggle, the difficulty, the frustration, to be able to move through it – to emerge, grow, find.

There was at the end of the ten days, a self-portrait that seemed to me to be a good partner for the second portrait of Scott Hazelhurst, and I titled the portrait of him, ‘Part you’, because of course, it is also part me, the maker of the portrait. I titled the gentler portrait of me, ‘Part me’, because it is only one view of me, and it sits alongside its more difficult ‘siblings’.

The titles for the monoprints variously reflect this struggle – ‘me not me’ ­­­– or the process of beginnings and discovery – ‘Start’ for a five-part series bound together on a folding linen mount; ‘Assay I – VI’ for six others in that series – a word that captures attempts to analyse, examine, assess, and investigate the characteristics or component parts of something.

There are two monoprints, gentler and more ethereal, whose titles are borrowed from Odilon Redon – ‘In heaven or closed eyes’, and another pair titled ‘Push pull’ again reflecting a search for equilibrium.” Joni Brenner 2023

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