Beulah van Rensburg, Australian Artist.
In her paintings of bird cages, Australian painter Beulah van Rensburg seeks to explore and express her experience of moving to new homes, and new countries that become home, sometimes fleetingly, and sometimes much longer than expected.
Using a symbolic figurative language conveyed through the richly nuanced colours of the old Italian masters oil painting technique that she employs, her images express the very modern phenomenon of global mobility, and its corresponding heightened emotional landscape: excitement, confusion, the capturing and conquering of the new, the happiness, the frustration, the fear and apprehension, the following, and the freeing that this experience involves.
The simple and graphic birdcage motif - an exotic yet familiar reference from traditional family life in China - is used to symbolize the sequences of people, places, homes, worlds and destinations that we experience, either coming from or going to, that fill our lives, and that we seek to arrange in meaningful patterns.
The cages are empty now; doors and hatches are open, and no birds can be seen. And while this emptiness can sometimes fringe each cage with a hint of melancholy or loss, there is also a strong sense of freedom, of liberation, of dynamism and flight. This bittersweet cocktail is the reality of each episode, each home, and each relationship.
Most importantly, in every image there is light. Light shines through from behind the cages, in varying degrees of intensity and warmth, conveying feelings of hope and happiness, of anticipation or of captured memory.
Cages typically feature as part of a cluster or sequence, sometimes orderly and balanced, sometimes skewed and more dynamic. But each cage is rendered intricate and unique in its own structure and detail, and each contains small, distinctive glimpses of beauty, variety and the vestiges of memory that we find in unexpected places.
The works are purposefully titled in Chinese, an homage to the love the artist developed - somewhat unexpectedly - for China and Hong Kong, which at first were destinations intended to be mere stops along life’s journey, but which evolved into a rich and rewarding home over the last 14 years.
The use of Chinese titles also demonstrate the immediacy of the effect that a different language and culture can have on us as we encounter them. They create in some fleeting way (non Chinese native speakers) the simultaneous feelings of isolation and excitement that come from living in someone else’s land. And the technique hints at the joy that arises when, despite not having a common verbal language, we find a new way to connect and communicate, sometimes deeply, with profoundly simple gestures and images.
Ultimately, van Rensburg’s work asks us to look around us, wherever we are and wherever we live, and recognise the episodes of everyday struggle and joy of reinvention, the warmth and the sadness of relationships made, of friendships come and gone. She wants us to feel all at once the isolation AND the togetherness that these constellations of cages convey; the enduring need for the warmth, the structure, the security and the joy of a home, amid the exciting and increasingly dynamic, mobile and global arc of modern life.