Critics’ Picks

Mia Chaplin, Embrace, 2018, oil on canvas, 56 x 48 1/2".

Cape Town

Mia Chaplin

WHATIFTHEWORLD | Cape Town
16 Buiten Street First Floor
December 7–February 2

Mia Chaplin’s energetic impasto paintings describing young women going about their lives are awhirl with dirty pinks, muddied yellows, and shades of green—notably, olive, celadon, and moss. These sullied tones also feature in nine papier-mâché constructions that mimic domestic vessels, as well as in the vertiginous textile installation Waterfall (all works 2018), which is composed of a floral-print fabric that trails into a mass on the floor. Especially in the artist’s five large figurative canvases, this degraded palette, achieved by using dirty solvent, proves strangely compelling, both magical and poisonous.

Chaplin’s colors are not reducible to mere signifying hues; they frequently operate on the level of form, blurring figure-ground relations. A double take is required to identify the naked, sleeping figure in Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, My Hair will Smother You, or the woman breastfeeding a child in Embrace. Despite her abstract leanings, Chaplin is a committed figurative painter. Cocoon Mood, a gossamer study of a shrouded sitter on a bed, is based on a photograph of the artist in a Vietnamese hotel, seated upright inside a mosquito net. Veils, along with camouflage-like patterns, recur throughout the show, as do likenesses of the artist.

Installed at the entrance, Unraveling depicts two figures in a furnished room, one naked with her head tilted as she appraises her earnest interlocutor in a pink top. Chaplin’s controlled technique in this work recalls that of Freida Lock, a neglected Cape Town Impressionist who specialized in vigorously painted interior scenes and portraits, and who, like Chaplin, had an affinity for oyster pink and unadulterated white. The air of disquiet and ruined elegance evoked within this threshold space thickens in an adjacent installation, Beast, made up of a length of treated canvas painted with a floral motif and draped over a mesh frame. It resembles a death shroud.