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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Hanneke Benade

An award-winning painter, Benade has developed a distinctive aesthetic through her fluid yet taut technique. Using pastels she evokes subtle tonal gradations, as well as Baroque-like chiaroscuro effects. Through these dramatic juxtapositions of light and dark she depicts moody, ambivalent portraits, both of people and the mundane minutia of daily life.

Although chiefly renowned for her representations of women, in recent years Benade has depicted both genders – variously in somber or pastel hues – poised against almost pungent, black backdrops. Although individualized, the works suggest the typology of a patriarchal heritage; austere clothing and hairstyles predominate. Contained and constrained, this imagery evokes a world in which the mundane is augmented and immortalized, harking back to the genre of seventeenth century still-life painting. Yet Benade’s manipulation of startling colour contrasts reinforces the tension between surface containment and an underlying sense of displacement. In her works, backs are turned and eyes are downcast. When the gaze of the “sitter” meets that of the viewer, it signifies not a connection but rather, a distraction, as though the protagonist is out of kilter with the immediacy of time and place.

‘In time’ develops this sense of displacement into an idiomatic portal leading to a mythical time and place of childhood. Comprising 12 large scale pastel works on cotton paper ‘In time’ depicts an iconography with which we, as adults, are vicariously familiar: a couple having tea with a miniature tea-set sitting at a tiny table and small chairs; people playing hide and seek, These are of course children’s games and childhood artifacts belonging to a bygone era.

“Growing up, we tend to idealize the past while looking forward to that which is still to come,” she explains. ”But what might be is always uncertain and unknown. That’s why we tend to hold on our lost youth.”

Indeed, memory sometimes serves to blunt and smudge the more jagged edges of experience, augmenting sentimental emblems of innocence while conveniently erasing the often painful reality of childhood rites of passage. Yet what appear to be prima facie portraits of nostalgia, in fact evoke a sense of acute ambivalence and displacement. Her protagonists appear not only “out of time” but out of place, as well. An Ophelia-like form floats on water or glides on wafts of clouds; or both. Two men appear to be acting out the nursery rhyme: ‘Row your boat gently down the stream’… Yet they seem to be rowing - and going - nowhere.

‘In Time’, therefore suggests that the states of returned-innocence for which one yearns are clearly unattainable, while the objects of which one still claims ownership, become merely memento mori. If not dead symbols, they are now bereft of lived experience, out of scale and sync with the adults who hold onto them. As such the artifacts of innocence are revealed to be little more than immortalized fictions.

“Trying to relive the past will only alienate one in the present,” says Benade. “We become lost-in-time impostors, and out-of-place intruders. “


Hanneke Benade was born in Tshwane in 1972. She graduated from the University of Pretoria with a Fine Arts degree in 1993. She has since lectured at the university and curated a group exhibition.... Her paintings have been displayed in solo exhibitions in Gauteng and the Western Cape, as well as group shows throughout South Africa, as well as in Europe and Egypt. In 2003 she won the Brett Kebble Art Award in the category of Painting and Mixed Media.

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