Dominique Cheminais

In June of 2022, I visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I was standing in front of a wall that announced: Louise Bourgeois Paintings. A small, roughly painted picture of a girl with yellow hair hung beneath the title. The fact that it was a show of paintings came as a surprise to me; I’d never known that the artist who I only recognised as a sculptor had ever made paintings. As I walked through the exhibition I found myself strongly drawn to the images, loose and coarsely painted, nightmarish and sweet in their almost nostalgic sense of drama. The paintings were mostly figurative: a swimming pool, a house with arms and breasts and legs, an elongated figure staring out with white eyes from a dark hazy face, a woman lying against a blood covered field, a severed head with clownish hair, mouth open in a scream.

A piece of text on the wall read: The subject comes directly from the unconscious. The formal perfection is the important part, and very conscious. The form has to be absolutely strict and pure. – Lousie Bourgeois

Something uncomfortable was happening inside me. It had happened before but never quite to this extent. Years ago, in San Francisco when I’d seen my first Baselitz in real life, and a few years later, when I’d encountered a collection of Kirchner’s paintings at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne. The feeling was like a twitch, like a broken hand flexing its fingers. My immediate instinct was to smother it like I had done before, but a key was turning slowly and deliberately in the lock of a door, a door I had forgotten was there. Before I could think to stop it or caution myself against it, I allowed the door to swing open.

When I got home to Cape Town, I immediately started to paint again. I was surprised that, after over a decade of abstaining, the process of laying paint onto a canvas came naturally, almost effortlessly. I made the shift to writing all those years ago when I was struggling with painting. As a painter my biggest hurdle was always subject matter. Writing gave me a sense of freedom that I couldn’t find with painting. I found it far easier to articulate my thoughts through words. The struggle to accurately express myself was gone and every image I wanted to create was translated fluidly into sentences and paragraphs. But now suddenly I can tap into the visual world that I’ve spent so many years creating inside my mind. It’s almost as if I’m possessed, compelled to paint out all the images that are pressing on my brain. Over the intervening years of writing fiction, I have populated my mind with many creatures and characters and scenarios. These images are now demanding to be made more real; they desire colour, shape and form, they want to live and breathe in the world.

Dominique Cheminais (b 1984) is a novelist and painter from Cape Town, South Africa. In 2010, she had an exhibition of paintings, titled For Esme with Love and Squalor, at Blank Projects. Shortly afterwards she stopped painting entirely and dedicated herself to writing fiction. She is the author of a collection of short stories, Slim Foot on the Neck of a Dead Lion and Immovable Movers, a book of abstract poetry. Her first novel, The Animal Breaking Through the Flesh, came out in 2015 followed by her second novel Eighty-Four Thousand. Her most recent novel Indefinite Holiday will be published in the US later this year through Pig Roast Publishing. Her novel Many Shallows has provided the inspiration for her new paintings.

Since re-entering the art world, she has shown work on FNB Joburg Art Fair with Stevenson Gallery, participated in a group show presented by Guy Simpson at Under Projects, and done a residency to launch her novel Many Shallows with A4 arts foundation, painting the walls and ceiling of the Goods space at Proto A4.

Works in the collection