Article – Sunday Indepenent

The Sunday Independent, March 12 2006

Artist’s pathways of light reflect personal journeys

Sunday Independent

By Judy Olivier

In her studio on a secluded farm in the Eastern Cape, Tammy Griffin has spent the last two years creating an astonishing set of abstract oils embedded with moving light.

Intimate Circuits, which opened this week in Cape Town, is a series of images that combine layers of traditional oil paints, acrylics, resin, glass, lead and car paint, with electronic components. LEDs (light emitting diodes- the kind of indicator light you find in computers) create randomly patterned glowing lights depending on how they are embedded in the back of each canvas. The result is a myriad reflections and refraction of moving light and colour that take the breath away.

“I used 500 LEDs, 1 500m of wire, as well as 20 microprocessors to drive the lights,” explains Tammy. “I scratched, pierced, sculpted, painted, hammered, soldered, cut, poured, touched and calculated.

“My paintings are abstract versions of realistic portraits, private associations, self invented marks, words and maps of energy. These paintings are journeys I’ve taken… They are based on the family, the extended or personal or universal family, reflected through hidden maps, words and explosions. The theme of family is embedded in the glue and solder, the maths, the blueprint, the paint and the hundreds of hours watching lights in the dark.

“The subject is complicated, beautiful but complicated. I burned my hands and got sick from the toxic materials – as if I had to physically absorb pain to produce this series. The result is full of texture, movement, music and rhythm – in the end, meditative and restful.”

Griffin was born in Zimbabwe. After a false start in economics at Rhodes University, her artistic career took off when she became a designer. She was involved in creating and teaching design to more than 60 local women. Her African images of clip art were published internationally in software bundles including Corel Draw, Canada and Art Explosion, USA and are in constant use to this day.

She decided to go back to school and in 2001 received a Bachelor of Fine Art with distinction in theory of art from Rhodes, painting over 100 works in her final year, three of which were bought for the Rhodes University alumni collection. One of her main influences was Mark Rothko, the subject of her academic dissertation examining the role of his Jewish religion in his work. But she has been searching

to find her own voice, a necessary but difficult process for young artists.

“I was feeling blocked, and I found that using electronic components shifted the block. When I started sculpting, I began to play. You know there are distractions in sculpture – calculations, measurements, different tools, experiments, models, touching – it’s physical. I play more when I’m bending wire, cutting metal, sanding, bolting, throwing resin moulds, soldering, drawing blueprints for light sequences or maps of wires – when I’m being challenged by puzzles. So I decided to mix a modern medium into my palette. I wanted oils and computers together on canvas as a statement in itself.”

Intimate, personal experiences came into play Griffin says. “One day I’d had a fight with someone, and I was really angry. So I took a tube of luminous pink acrylic and swore six times onto the white blank canvas. This helped me start. Then I turned the canvas round. On the one end I wrote to him, on the other to me.

“But this written conversation itself was short-lived. In no time my writing changed into cryptic script or marks influenced by my most recent portrait study. It became more poetical, philosophical, then abstract. This was the final piece in thee series, I wanted no words, just paint. So I covered the words with paint and lights.”

“I sat and stared at the work for hours at a time without painting. I saw things – trees – possibly projections – premonitions. At times I had to rest. There was the wiring. LED wires pierce through the canvas. At the back of the canvas I had to solder, glue and tie wires in specific ways. I had to join and cover the fragile microprocessors and make socket points in the aluminum frame.”

“The biggest lesson? Realising that the work goes way beyond me. When I paint I enter a world that is not familiar to me. I do not feel in control – the painting and the surface talk back to me, the bumps and grooves, the spaces in between, the balance, the colour and the reflections. So that actually I’m just a transmitter.”

Intimate Circuits runs till March 31 at Joao Ferreira Gallery in Hout Street, Cape Town