Connections’ a solo exhibition by Nicky Marais (Guns & Rain & StArt Art Gallery)

Connections: a solo exhibition by Nicky Marais

Guns & Rain Gallery, Johannesburg in collaboration with StArt Art Gallery, Windhoek

20 July – 2 August 2020

‘I love the drama of what happens in the spaces between things, the portals, and the liminality of the in-between. The tenuousness of these joinings. The places and shapes that fascinate me and recur in my work are those that signify a change of state, or a change of being.’

Nicky Marais’ recent paintings on paper continue her iterative process of image making, focusing on liminal space and its signifiers. She works quickly with acrylic and ink on paper, building up and layering shapes. In this labour intensive process she often works on multiple pieces at once, resulting in paintings that capture movement and transience.

‘Raining I’

These works are dense with careful mark making. Strong lines intersect with delicate brushwork to build complex, largely abstract images. However, there is also a determined simplicity to the forms at play. Each shape is pared down and abstracted to an archetype of itself. Mundane, everyday shapes like tunnels and turnstiles are treated with the same vigour and obsession as sites of spiritual intensity, like temples and graves. These are some of the objects and sites that Marais has drawn on to create this body of work.

The graphic quality of her paintings derives from stencils that are used multiple times, focussing on both positive and negative space. Each piece forms part of a broad vocabulary of structures that speak to her current preoccupation with sites of connection.

‘In this body of work I explore connectors and connections and translate these ephemeral concepts into shapes, spaces and forms. Some of them are abstracted and geometric with only fragile relationships to the figurative; others are more pointedly associated with objects and places.’

In the ‘Grave Spaces’ series, there is a distinct melancholy relayed in muted colours and tones that contrast with the jubilance of the ‘Raining’ series. While graves offer a place at which to commune with loved ones, there is also an absence inherent in their signification. Likewise rain also opens up a direct link between two entities, in this case the earth and the sky. Namibia’s desert environment is particularly vulnerable to drought and a good rainy season is cause for celebration. Life is sustained through this tenuous connection.

‘Grave Spaces 1, 2 & 3’

‘Graves or grave markers are the point of connection between the presence of the living and the absence of the dead, rain connects transient clouds to solid ground, portals and gates link the known interior to the evanescence of the unknown.’

Marais’ temple symbols similarly engage a relationship between the physical and spiritual: places of worship, prayer, devotion. The temple symbol is almost always used along with its reflection, creating a mirror of itself, signifying both external spaces and the inner space of reflection. In this form, the temple is sedentary and almost completely abstracted.

‘Summer Temple’

The images of turnstiles, on the other hand, maintain a representational quality and are imbued with movement. Movement between spaces, places and states of being- bureaucratic buildings and outdoor parks. Movement is controlled and monitored – it is personal and political. In the same vein, Marais’ Portals series focuses on tunnel shapes. However, through layering and her use of colour, she creates blockage as well as movement. To what extent are we able to truly connect? ‘Ultimately these works present my desire for connection”, says Marais, “a need to understand the unknowable and to give context to the relationships, the links, the between things.’

‘Turnstile 1’


Marais is well-known for her abstract artworks created using a personal vocabulary of abstract forms and colour relationships derived from everyday life as well as the socio-political history of Namibia and icons from around the continent. These forms are often layered using a mixture of stencils and traditional painting techniques.

Much of her work explores the relationship between physical and spiritual worlds, which extends into an investigation of the relationship between the tangible and the intangible, the signifier and the signified.

Marais has exhibited extensively in Namibia and abroad. She is recently retired from an eleven year posting as the Head of Department of Visual Arts at the College of the Arts in Windhoek.

‘Connections’ is covid-conscious visible in person at Guns & Rain Art Gallery in Johannesburg. Book your visit by contacting


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