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Ravelle Pillay opens her first UK solo exhibition.

Ravelle Pillay, A Gathering of Friends (The Instruction), 2023. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery, courtesy the artist.
Ravelle Pillay, A Gathering of Friends (The Instruction), 2023. Oil on canvas. Commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery, courtesy the artist.

Chisenhale Gallery to present Idyll, the first UK solo exhibition by Johannesburg-based artist Ravelle Pillay. Idyll includes eight never-before-seen oil paintings on canvas, ranging from near life-size to smaller portraits. The works are hung alongside a series of Indian ink drawings on acetate. Connecting sites of enduring personal interest to the fallibility of memory, Idyll continues the artist’s reflections on how we remember – history, places and people. Capturing faded faces to smaller windows looking onto lush vistas, the paintings commissioned by Chisenhale Gallery recontextualise people and nature as vivid actors in the long arc of indentured labour. 

Pillay’s practice evolves from a personal process of archiving, drawing equally from family photographs and found imagery to map life-making in the wake of mass migration. As a descendant of Indian indentured labourers, Pillay’s paintings are haunted by a personal relationship to legacies of colonialism and migration.  Merging the archival and imaginary, this new body of work considers the material possibilities of the medium, offering painting as a mediation between past and present, memory and experience.

Throughout the exhibition motifs repeat creating an uncanny familiarity; bodies of water are doubled and forms are tirelessly reworked. Pillay describes painting as thinking, with each composition resting on a decision: what to dissolve and conceal from view? What to render apparent? By concentrating and layering paint, whilst simultaneously diluting and rubbing out, Pillay exercises her own agency in reshaping familial and national narratives.

After working as an artist-in-residence at Gasworks, London, from October to December 2022, Pillay completed the works in Chisenhale Studios. Coinciding with the exhibition, Pillay is producing a new limited edition lithograph for Chisenhale Gallery and Gasworks. All proceeds will be evenly split between the two non-profit organisations to benefit their respective programmes.

It’s not easy to make a beautiful painting. Harder still is to create ones that each feel like you are experiencing a medium for the very first time. Ravelle has a rare gift for evoking landscapes and portraits in oil paint that feel as though we are stepping inside the past, standing alongside ghosts; here is a young artist unafraid to confront family stories and national histories in alluring and engrossing ways. The paintings defy expectations.

Chisenhale’s Director Zoé Whitley

Ravelle Pillay: Idyll, 24th February – 23rd April 2023, Opening: Thursday 23rd February 2023, 6-8pm, Chisenhale

Ravelle Pillay: Idyll is curated by Chisenhale Commissions Curator Olivia Aherne.

About the artist

Courtesy the artist and Goodman Gallery, Photography by Alexander James Edwards

Ravelle Pillay is a South African artist living and working in Johannesburg. She holds a degree in Fine Art from the University of the Witwatersrand and is the recipient of the 2022 African Art Galleries Association’s Emerging Painting Invitational for painters from the African continent. Her work was featured at Frieze London 2022, and she was in residence at Gasworks, London from October to December 2022. 



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