Slick black surrounds shards of flat colour which intersect in a shifting and expanding arrangement of bold hues and sharply defined angles. The seemingly perfect appearance of Elad Kirshenbaum’s candy-bright abstract artworks belies their multitudinous layering of material and meaning, where all is not what it seems.

‘Debate Colour’ is a series of laboriously created spray-paint and reverse glass paintings which give the impression that their precise geometry was machine made, or digitally produced. Rather than achieving perfection, though, or tricking the viewer, Kirshenbaum aims to engage us in an open-ended conversation around language, beauty and community.

Fine art is a relatively new mode of working for the founder of Side Street Studios (among a range of other projects). With a background in architecture, the focus on geometric abstraction is apt. The history of the movement is tied closely to architecture, with its defined forms drawing on and referencing spatial encounters – grids, intersections, angles. De Stijl, Bauhaus, Constructivism and Art Deco all functioned as collectives of artists, architects, designers and thinkers. Architecture and urban philosophy is still at the core of what Kirshenbaum does.

His passionate philosophy of urbanism was developed via immersion in the creative life of the city. Cape Town’s “unofficial heart of art and design”, Side Street offers working spaces to artists in Woodstock, and it is through connecting deeply with these creatives that Kirshenbaum discovered his own desire to make art. “Nothing happens in a vacuum,” he explains.

As an artist, Kirshenbaum interrogates the establishment of principles, and how such definitions function in actuality. He also investigates how we are both affected by and influence the spaces we live in. Each painting in the series comprises a range of building blocks. The simple forms of Os and Xs are made up of a complex arrangement of smaller shapes, like chevrons, triangles and semi-circles. The Xs serve as both starting and end points of a journey. The Os, divided, are disrupted cycles, multifaceted entities, where a whole only exists because of its components, like the apartments in a building, the blocks of a city, or the cells in a body.

The result of much time spent experimenting with media (from bubble-wrap to neon light) and refining application processes, the works in ‘Debate Colour’ do just that. Primarily floating on glossy black, each section within the larger form is made up of two hues – yellow and duck egg, perhaps, or violet and soft pink, leaf green and olive green, with the same shade sometimes appearing in more than one combination in a single artwork. From these pairs, a third colour is almost created. Kirshenbaum explores how colours mutually modify one another; the very same green next to pale blue appears different when juxtaposed with bright red. Our attention is drawn to just how much the colours interact with each other, and how we respond to them. We are encouraged to question our subjective perception of colour and, further, our understanding of how the languages of description and classification function. This introspection is intentionally enhanced by the reflective surface of the glass; we can’t help but notice ourselves appearing within the work.

Through these playfully dynamic pieces, we see that meaning is created via engagement and interaction – between artist and viewer, and between ourselves and our communities. While the history of geometric abstraction was often about stripping away the non-essential in search of a universal truth, or unequivocal constant, Kirshenbaum asks us instead to reflect on and share our understanding with others, while being open to theirs. A city, after all, is a place of change and possibility, of different people coming together, compromising, and building a home.

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