By BRUCE DENNILL
Cognisance – An Exhibition of Equine Paintings by Joni-Leigh Doran highlights the enduring but complex relationship between horses and humans. In these paintings, the spectral representation of the horse presents a species with a long and
interconnected relationship with humans, sometimes to the point of holy divinity. The horse’s long service to humanity, and their deep awareness and understanding of a species other than themselves, is one we humans can only aspire to. Humans have, since the beginning, subjected billions of horses to untold horrors and murderous exploitation. The ghostlike form of various horses in these paintings is both a testament to those that have suffered and died as well as our sanctification of them and our admiration of their deep powers of intuition and knowledge that rises far beyond the cognitive abilities of our own species. Joni-Leigh Doran lives in McGregor in the Western Cape.
What sort of training have you received and how important do you think it is to seek training (in terms of learning first principles and refining technique)?
I took art as a subject in high school and followed on with a National Diploma in Graphic Design. It was my dream to study Fine Art, but instead I had to rely on learning all I could from various mentors and teachers while working full time as a Graphic Designer for the first 15 years of my career. I can’t speak for other art forms, but my personal opinion based on my own experience, is that learning from an expert how to properly use one’s medium of choice is vital. It opens up a world of freedom in being able to articulate what it is one is trying to communicate.
What is your principal medium, and why did you choose it?
My principal medium is oil paint on canvas and linen. This was a personal choice for me as it was my late father’s medium of choice. Like many artists, I began working in acrylics when I first started painting in my teenage years, but his reverence for oils and everything they represent inspired me and now helps me to feel connected to him through the process of creating my work.
Describe the techniques you use most? How complicated are your methods, and why is each step necessary?
To a large extent, I aim to follow the techniques of the classical masters; such as “fat over lean”, establishing tonal variations first, working with hard versus soft edges and using colour as a means to unify a painting. Being able to draw forms the basis for all of my work. My methods are not complicated, but they follow a clear structure in order to reach the goal of creating a successful and enduring piece of work.
What technological tools do you use in your work?
I like to work from life as often as possible, but I also make use of photography as references for my paintings. I am fortunate to have had three years of in-depth photographic training as part of my National Diploma in Graphic Design, and to have some gifted photographers as personal acquaintances and friends. Of course, my computer and phone have also become essential communication and marketing tools.
Who is the single other artist whose style you most admire, and why?
There are two artists I personally admire tremendously. The first is the late Ryno Swart, a long-time mentor and friend, who tragically passed away this year. He painted and taught until the very end, worked solely from life and imagination and had a passion for beauty in all forms. He drew inspiration from the likes of Rembrandt and Turner, which is evident in the chiaroscuro – treatment of light and shade – and remarkable sense of atmosphere of his works. The second is Casey Baugh. Although our subject matter is vastly different, he also works in the traditional mediums of oil paint on canvas in a style I admire greatly, which he has himself referred to as “narrative impressionistic realism.”
Galleries and other traditional means are only one way of marketing art. What do you believe are the most important other routes, and what is the most important insight you have gained in that area in your career?
I believe it’s important to allow oneself the space and time to grow and develop as an artist before getting caught up in marketing. The most important insight I’ve gained into this area of my career is to allow my work to speak for itself, in a deliberate attempt to not be influenced by what “sells”, and to keep my voice as pure and authentic as possible. Until now I have marketed my work organically, solely through my personal social media accounts and website.
Why do you create? What are your stated goals in producing art?
I revere the non-human, raw and natural world and painting is the primary channel that connects me in a deeply intimate way to this world. I refer to Vincent van Gogh, who explained it best; “I experience a period of frightening clarity in those moments when nature is so beautiful. I am no longer sure of myself, and the paintings appear as if in a dream.”