A Jour­ney into the Ab­stract

Premier Magazine (South AFrica) - - Motoring - Text: Julie Graham Images © Yvette Chilli

Self-taught ab­stract artist, Yvette Chilli, has had an affin­ity for art from a young age. Her pas­sion for draw­ing and paint­ing started as far back as nurs­ery school when at just five-years-old, she painted her very first mu­ral of flow­ers on the walls of her school. Her love for paint­ing con­tin­ued into adult­hood, and Chilli spent ev­ery ounce of her free time im­mersed in her art­work which was, for a long time, fo­cused on re­al­ism and, ac­cord­ing to the artist, rather ama­teur in its style.

Born and raised in Pre­to­ria, Chilli and her fam­ily moved to Cape Town in 2006 where she worked as a com­puter hard­ware sales­per­son and painted in her free time. She ex­hib­ited some of her paint­ings in restau­rants, and even sold a few, but could not com­mit to a life as a full-time artist.

Some say it takes a ma­jor event in one’s life to evoke change and, in the case of Chilli, this ma­jor event came in the form of a near fa­tal mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent in 2013. The ac­ci­dent, dur­ing which her mo­tor­cy­cle hel­met split open and left her with a hole in the mid­dle of her skull, re­sulted in Chilli sus­tain­ing mi­nor brain dam­age, which meant that she bat­tled to ac­cess im­por­tant mem­o­ries like her birth­day and even the names of her sons. As a re­sult, she be­came un­em­ployed and found it dif­fi­cult to per­form ba­sic du­ties. Af­ter the loss of her job and mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ships, her per­son­al­ity as well as her art­work changed overnight. “Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, when I tried to paint, my works all came out wrong. They turned into ab­stracts,” she re­calls.

In­stead of giv­ing up, she seized the mo­ment of tran­si­tion within her­self and her art­work and pushed her­self to con­tinue paint­ing. “I was hor­ri­fied at my new works but de­cided to em­brace the ab­strac­tion and con­tinue with it any­way, hop­ing deep

Although ev­ery ab­stract has a hid­den story be­hind it, for me as the artist, I want peo­ple to feel the paint­ing on a spir­i­tual level and not just see it.

down in­side that I would re­mem­ber how to paint what I used to paint.” Her new works, rich in colour and ab­stract nu­ances, cap­tured the at­ten­tion of the pub­lic, and in June of 2013, An ar­ti­cle about Chilli was fea­tured in O, The Oprah Mag­a­zine, giv­ing her the con­fi­dence and courage to move for­ward. Coura­geous brush­strokes and a pro­found sense of emo­tion in her ab­stract works are all re­flec­tions of the artist’s own courage and jour­ney of heal­ing.

Em­brac­ing her new style and ea­ger to learn more about it, she met up with mas­ter artist, the late Ernst de Jong, in 2014 and was taken un­der his wing as he guided and men­tored her in the tech­ni­cal as­pects of mod­ern ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism. “Due to his time and guid­ance my ab­stracts be­come stronger and bet­ter,” she re­calls. Sadly, De Jong passed away sud­denly in Fe­bru­ary 2016, and Chilli – fac­ing yet an­other ma­jor loss in her life – be­gan to paint very dark ab­stracts. For nine months af­ter his pass­ing, her work be­came melan­cholic and moody and she be­lieved that she would never have a men­tor again.

All that changed how­ever, when Chilli be­gan work­ing for one of South Africa’s lead­ing land­scape artists, Chris Tug­well, as a cu­ra­tor at his gallery. She moved into the home of the artist and was men­tored on a daily ba­sis. “My works started to turn into clas­sic land­scapes, but he urged me to keep my free, loose style of paint­ing in­stead of be­com­ing a tight re­al­is­tic land­scape artist.”

It is through her un­yield­ing and de­ter­mined ef­forts to find her new artis­tic lan­guage through her paint­ings that, for her, have be­come a spir­i­tual and heal­ing con­ver­sa­tion with both her­self and the world around her, that her work has truly flour­ished. This con­ver­sa­tion is some­thing that she wants to have with every­one who views her work and is an in­te­gral part of her own de­vel­op­ment since the ac­ci­dent. “Although ev­ery ab­stract has a hid­den story be­hind it, for me as the artist, I want peo­ple to feel the paint­ing on a spir­i­tual level and not just see it,” she says. “I have a mo­ment of si­lence and say a prayer be­fore each paint­ing gets started.”

Her works, which have a some­what tran­scen­den­tal, ethe­real feel­ing to them, of­fer view­ers the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in a con­ver­sa­tion in a lan­guage that goes be­yond hu­man words. This lan­guage has cap­tured the hearts of the pub­lic and this year, Chilli em­barked on her first se­ries of ex­hi­bi­tions in Hong Kong and South Africa. Her works in South Africa were ex­hib­ited along­side the works of her late men­tor, De Jong. Con­stantly rein­vent­ing her work as she, her­self, evolves, Chilli’s style, though re­main­ing true to her love of ab­stract, is slow­ing, tak­ing on a more im­pres­sion­is­tic style with a large back­drop of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism still ev­i­dent in her paint­ings.

This is par­tic­u­larly ev­i­dent in her lat­est, on­go­ing se­ries en­ti­tled The Im­per­fect Horses which is a se­ries of 10 horses, painted over 10 years, from 2013 to 2023. Paint­ing one horse each year, Chilli aims to re­flect her own weak­nesses through the im­agery in which each horse painted has a de­fect. “In 2014 I painted the horse with no ears dur­ing a time when I did not want to hear any crit­i­cism about my art,” she ex­plains. “For sur­vival pur­poses, and maybe as a de­fence mech­a­nism, I just blocked out ev­ery­thing peo­ple said. Sim­i­larly, when I broke my leg in 2015 and was bedrid­den for weeks, I painted the in­jured horse stuck in the waters of a creepy swamp.”

Chilli’s jour­ney into the world of ab­stract art is a truly unique one and one that we are all in­vited to share with her. Her courage can be seen and felt in her bold work, which uses the univer­sal lan­guage of art to speak to the hearts of us all.

For more in­for­ma­tion on Yvette Chilli and to view more of her art­work, fol­low her on Face­book at @chill­i­gal­le­ria.

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