Feeling colours, forming freedom

Johannesburgers will soon have a unique opportunity to view works by two of the country’s foremost creative talents – artist Sheila (Jarzin) Levinson and sculptor Johan van Heerden – in a joint exhibition in Sandown Estate

Raised in the coal mining village of Dannhauser, KwaZulu-Natal, Sheila (Jarzin) Levinson studied with Giuseppe Cattaneo for six years and held her first one-woman show at the Taylor Art Gallery in 1970.

Since then, she has exhibited numerous times at galleries which include the Lidchi, the Goodman, the Everard Read, the SA Association of Art (in Pretoria), the Crake, the Karen McKerron and the Thompson.

In 2000, a 2m x 3m mural of hers was commissioned for the Clive M Beck Auditorium in Johannesburg and in the same year, her painting of Table Mountain was exhibited in the National Gallery in Cape Town.

Known for her desertscapes, seascapes, skyscapes and abstracts, Levinson is a master strategist in blending and amplifying colours.

From swathes of vivid, fiery vermilions, lilacs and crimsons to riotous ombre browns, delicate golds, corals and blues, the pictures blaze with passion. There is anger, exultation, grief and all the other mutations of love.

The balance of distance and detail is exquisite, with the flow of form occasionally staunched by tension or distortion. Textures are overlaid, excavating each other and creating depth and diversity

The works are dramatic in their scale, with an occasional rupture of the sky or sea bleeding into the picture. And, indeed, in many of the paintings, the colour is corpuscular, sometimes clotted, always vital: like blood or salt, it comes from deep within a lived experience.

Yet in others, they transcend it, with a luminous horizon suggesting a portal or terminus – perhaps an egress from the intensity of Levinson’s canvas to a new beginning.

“My paintings are about the struggle of my spirit to transcend the constraints of life and fly,” she says. “I have tried to use colour and line to express emotion, from great joy to great pain. There have been some changes in my style over the past several years.