Life in transition

14 July 2020 | Art and Entertainment

Windhoek • Marita van Rooyen
Well-known artist Barbara Böhlke’s latest collection can be viewed at The Project Room in Windhoek as from Friday (17 July).
Although Böhlke describes Transition – the theme and title of her latest solo exhibition – as a space that’s hard to define, her connection to the medium speaks for itself. In the artist’s skilled hands, otjize (ochre) becomes the shade of the desert sunset – deep reds blend with dark oranges and tinges of yellow, which turns an almost-glowing pink as it catches the horizon and merges with other pigments on the canvas.
“When I spread the pigments, I can smell the Commiphora from the place where it came from the earth, and that smell brings a certain association with the landscape; not in its physical form, but with its inner space.”
As she alters atmospheres through layering, tones of grey with hues of blue rise from a smudge of ash and transform her creative space into a reflective mood, emotion, and connection to self.
Mastered onto canvas with sponges, fingers and forearms, softened with the occasional brush stroke and textured through layering, scratching and scaling, Böhlke’s works presents a collection of personalised techniques expressed through locally sourced natural mediums.
Her pigments of choice are predominantly ochre stones from the Kaokoveld, crushed and powered, while charcoal from her fireplace adds texture and shades of blacks, greys and blues. These elements work together to depict “space”, which for the artist is often expressed through the physical environment that embodies that vast inner landscape: the desert, horizon, sky, and the mysterious plateau where it all meets.
“This is home for me,” she says, “this immenseness, where my heart simply opens up. I know how much is in this seemingly dead setting…the colours, the contours.”
Böhlke notes, “We live in a time of extreme transition. The onset of the Coronavirus and subsequent lockdown had the effect of a carpet being ripped out from beneath my feet. Everyone may have experienced it in his or her own way, but because we’re all affected, we generate a sense of shared uncertainty and discomfort, and with hope, also a shift in consciousness.”
Böhlke admits, “I’m also transitioning through my paintings, as I shape them layer by layer, moving into formlessness and through horizons. To me, transitioning is about more than the psychological space – it’s a journey through the ambiguous.”

Meet the artist
Born and bred in Swakopmund, Böhlke grew up between the desert and her favourite teal blue sea, and as part of a family of creatives (both her parents were goldsmiths) who were fond of camping, spent her youth developing a strong appreciation for creative expression, open spaces and the transience of life.
Following in her parents’ footsteps, she trained as a goldsmith in Germany, but soon after realised that their trade was not her calling, returned to the southern hemisphere and enrolled as Fine Arts student at the University of Stellenbosch. Despite an initial struggle to adapt to a field of creativity she had no former experience in, one night after a sudden burst of flow, Böhlke found her true source of expression in painting, and has never looked back.
Upon her return in 1989, she based herself in Windhoek and has been an active part of the Namibian art community ever since, amongst others as member of the Tulipamwe Working Group of Artists and International Artist Workshop, and through various workshops and exhibitions.
In 1997 she opened the Barbara Böhlke Art School where she teaches children and adults, and since 2013 has orchestrated a biannual exhibition in benefit of local charities. Her work is acclaimed not only in Namibia, but also internationally and features in private collections across the globe, from Australia to France, Ethiopia to Norway, USA, UK, South Africa, Zambia and Denmark.
The exhibition opens at 18:00 on Friday, and can be viewed until 1 August. Opening times: Monday to Friday from 10:00 to 13:00.

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