Multi-layered: Vanishing Kokerboom. Picture: SUPPLIED
Multi-layered: Vanishing Kokerboom. Picture: SUPPLIED

Although their reasons may differ, many artists are uncomfortable talking about their work. Jane Alexander, famous for her Butcher Boys sculpture, prefers her work to speak for itself, allowing for many different interpretations from viewers.

The artist Lindy Solomon doesn’t want to talk about her work either. It’s an ethical consideration. She insists that she is simply the conduit for the work, and that is the reason why she won’t sign any of it.

Her latest exhibition, Unearth, was two years in the making, inspired by time spent in the wild mountainscapes of the Groot Winterhoek range in the Western Cape.

The dramatic rock formations, some with ancient San rock paintings, provided a perfect birthing place for Solomon’s ideas expressed in monotypes, paintings and mixed medium works.

She describes her creative practice as an intuitive and responsive one where process rather than the final product is the focus. This approach is in keeping with her practice as a teacher of artistic processes. In reaction to the highly judgmental attitude found at many art institutions, she devised a method she calls Awakening Spirit Through Art.

The title Unearth suggests an excavation of memory carried out in order to liberate the present. Instead of showing in a high-end white walled commercial gallery, Unearth is appropriately housed in the stately and old Holistic and Creative Centre in Woodstock.

In 2003 environmental philosopher Glenn Albrecht created a new word to reflect human destruction on the natural world. Solastalgia is derived from the ancient Greek and Roman words for pain and comfort. Albrecht says it means “distress specifically caused by environmental change”.

The mood of Unearth is informed by a Joseph Campbell quote on desiccation, above which Solomon placed a dried branch. In her artist’s statement she writes, “We have become unearthed from earth and gone into a kind of ‘psychic shock’. ”

Her work engenders feelings of human isolation, alienation and depression. Unearthed spans three rooms and is made up of subtle, atmospheric works. Subjects include trees, seeds and an almost indiscernible human form.

The first room contains 17 mixed media works combining collages with paint. It’s a sober room in autumnal tones. Solomon has created a palimpsest of highly stressed layered surfaces showing traces of ghostly, leafless trees and fleeting liminal figures.

The feel of peeled back surfaces is in keeping with Solomon’s concept of excavating memories from the past on a personal and collective level. Many of the figures are children portrayed as tree protectors. They symbolise loss, but also a possible future of renewal with nature.

There are four paintings in the room, titled Threadbare, Vanishing Kokerboom Sacred Tree and Soul Retrieval — and all have a single, ghostly and bare tree.  The feelings they evoke are of a surface like a worn carpet that exposes the underlying structure.

The second room holds smaller works; Fynbos Vibration with its faint hint of the essence of wild fynbos; the clay monotype Acacia series suggestive of fossilised memories of human existence; Barely There and Seed Fossils with faint hopes of a better future.

Unearth has made some viewers weep when resonating with the grim reality of humanity’s dislocation with the natural world and what this meant for their children and grandchildren. Buyers have written to Solomon to explain why they bought works and how it called to them from across the room.

Unearth is a restrained exhibition. It doesn’t try too hard. It is almost old fashioned in its quietness and simplicity. It doesn’t resort to the raised fist, finger pointing stereotypes of activism or complex conceptuality of contemporary work. While they would be easy to live with, the heart opening punch they deliver must not be underestimated.

Unearth provides no answers about the huge concerns the pieces depict. The works hold the tension of the polarity of Thanatos and Eros — the pull of life and death — and the many possibilities that lie in between.

The delicacy of Solomon’s works gently encourages people to, rather than to look away in horror at what they have caused, start facing it and move towards reconnecting  with the environment as their home and with the recognition that humans are stewards of the earth.

Ecuador was the first country to recognise the rights of nature in its constitution, acknowledging that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist.  Bolivia has developed a Mother Earth Law which also gives nature rights.

 In 2017 the Whanganui River, sacred to the Maori people, was declared a living entity with full legal rights by the New Zealand government. This was followed by the recognition of sacred Ganges river and its main tributary, the Yamuna, as living human entities. There have been attempts to heal the disconnect  between humans and the earth.

• Unearth is at Gallery 196 Victoria road Woodstock until November 23.