Kaja Rubbert and Caitlin Cairns.
As part of our school Visual Arts program, we recently got to visit the Christine Marais Retrospective Exhibition, which was on display at the National Art Gallery of Namibia from November 5th 2014 – January 31st 2015. It included some of her best known work, which focused mainly on the Namibian environment and Namibian architecture as well as international architecture and portraiture.
Kaja: I grew up with Christine Marais’ work. I saw it in books and in family houses. I knew she was a well-known Namibian artist. However I never put the name and the work together and walking into the exhibition something finally clicked.
Caitlin: This exhibition was seen in a totally new perspective for me. I had not come across Christine Marais work before, so this was a great opportunity to get a taste of a well-known and experienced Namibian artists. As I walked into the room I was saddened to see she had passed in 2012.
Kaja: I thought that there were plenty of things to learn from Marais’ work, such as her exquisite technique of watercolor, her quite heavy style of using oil paint, her dark tones when using dry pastels and her works in pen or pencil. In particular I liked the clean cut lines she uses in her watercolors. They are enjoyable not only artistically, but are valuable to scientific and architectural study as well.
Caitlin: Marais’ ability to use watercolor without causing a ‘bleeding’ effect with the paint was fascinating to me, as I struggle to keep control over watercolor when I paint. Her technique of using paint over pen was intriguing as it seemed very skillful. It had a sketchy effect that didn’t come across as messy. Although Marais had great skill working with the different types of media mentioned, I wonder if she had any other pieces that were completely different than what was displayed, such as sculptures. Another thing I noticed is that Marais seemed to work a lot on paper and board and I wonder if she ever worked on canvas too. If so, I wonder why these works were not displayed in this exhibition?
Kaja: One aspect of the exhibition which was upsetting and could have been improved as that while there was some biographical information about Marais, it was crammed into a corner of the gallery behind the door and only offered a smither of information. This seamed unfair and undeserved, considering Marais’ influence in Namibia and her widespread admiration.
Overall we really enjoyed the exhibition. It inspired us and we learned a lot from her technique, her skill, her style and her legacy. The great thing about her work is that it isn’t only enjoyable for art-lovers but also for people interested in botany, architecture and geology. We felt very fortunate to be able to see so much of her work altogether, for possibly the last time ever.
Editor’s Note: Biographical information about Christine Marais was included in a small catalogue of images and essays compiled by Christine Marais family and colleagues. This book was published in the run-up to the exhibition, but it was sadly not available at NAGN on the occasions that we visited the exhibition. NAGN has some explaining to do, or perhaps the publishers do.
Marais legacy remains prominent in most Namibian bookshops where her illustrated books on Namibian flora, fauna and the environment are sold, and her extensive body of work is treasured in many private collections across the country. She is remembered for her contribution to art and to environmental awareness in Namibia.