Marais’ ‘Bearings’ whirs with renewed vitality

Nicky Marais Photo: Martha Mukaiwa

To regard a painting by Nicky Marais is to engage in a process of deciphering. It is an act of examining its abstract, acrylic layers while musing on its motifs, before stepping back to contemplate everything at once.

At the opening of ‘Bearings’, Marais’ latest solo exhibition currently on display at Windhoek’s National Art Gallery of Namibia, ‘Everything at Once’ is a painting that fascinates patrons with its bold, vital, kineticism.

Presenting a cross-section of Marais’ complex visual language, the artwork is a magnetic and moving piece that speaks to the artist’s vivid inner world, amplified by her recent move from Windhoek to the quaint mining town of Oranjemund.

The exhibition of over 20 artworks draws its name from an aspect of this relocation.

“A year ago, I moved to Oranjemund in the far south of Namibia, where the Orange River meets the sea. I now live on the edge of the desert and from the windows of my new painting studio, I stare out into the southern Namib Dune Sea,” says Marais in her artist’s statement.

“I had to find my bearings at Oranjemund, to establish myself in my new life, and to make new paintings in my studio.”

Through the veteran artist’s navigation of her new home, Marais extends her visual vocabulary to include elements of her stirring new environment.

“I discovered two trig beacons on my walks into the desert in front of my house and their shape intrigued me. The satisfying black three-dimensional cross standing up from a concrete base is pure geometric abstraction and resonates with the symbolism of my search for new bearings,” says Marais.

“The functionality of a trig beacon is to mark a very specific place in relation to other specific places, this resonated with my need to establish my new centre in relation to the people in my life.”

Marais also incorporates forms and symbols inspired by the intense coastal desert winds, the shape of mining concessions drawn over maps, the structure of precious stones, the lure of an island off the coast and by imagery from ‘Muafangejo’s Kraal’, a John Muafangejo print displayed in her new living room.

While much of Marais’ offering is optimistic and born of the artist’s curiosity, her settling in and her ambling, images such as ‘Lot’s Wife’ and ‘Clear and Present Danger’ share another side of attempting to anchor oneself in a new locality.

“The painting was made to warn myself against naivety,” says Marais of ‘Clear and Present Danger’.

“’Lot’s Wife’ is a pretty stark painting, very high contrast and unambiguous. It’s about the inadvisability of turning back after you’ve made some serious decisions.”

A deeply personal exhibition that returns signature imagery of temples and gates while expanding Marais’ visual lexis propelled by her new locale, ‘Bearings’ is a masterful and cohesive offering that whirs with renewed vitality.

“Living at Oranjemund has definitely freed me in a fundamental way. I feel more able to paint just what I want to. There is a real feeling of ease, of excitement, of discovery,” says Marais, who is currently a consultant for OMDis’ Art Can Transform project.

“It’s lovely to live at a town that really appreciates art and artists and understands the value that art can add to life. Transformation is exciting and delightful and sometimes at odds with the awful news of the outside world,” Marais says.

“There is definitely a feeling of a second chance and grabbing that chance with both hands.”

Nicky Marais’ ‘Bearings’ will be on display at the National Art Gallery of Namibia until 6 July. View the exhibition catalogue at

–; Martha Mukaiwa on Twitter and Instagram;

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