19 Jan

Remembering Louis Maqhubela, Pioneering And Enigmatic South African

It was the first South African artist Louis Khehla Maqhubela passed away on the 6th of November 2021. In St Thomas Hospital located in London, UK, a few days after the passing of his spouse Tana Maqhubela also passed. He leaves behind a significant and enduring legacy.

He was a bridge builder between South Africa’s urban and black township artists of the 50s, 60s and the 70s. The shift he made to move away from expressionism. That was prescriptive into the internationalist style and issues cannot be undervalued.

The Early South Years

Maqhubela was born in Durban, South Africa, in 1939. His parents relocated from Durban to Johannesburg at the beginning of 1949 and the two sisters. And he were taken to live with his aunt who lived in the village. Located in Matatiele in the province of the Eastern Cape province. Until they were reunited with their parents three years later.

Maqhubela was part of Durant Sihlali’s group of weekend artists from 1955 until 1957. Between 1957 and 1959, when he was still attending the school in Soweto the city, he was studying under the guidance by Cecil Skotnes known for his incised and painted wood panels, woodblock prints sculpture and tapestries and the sculptor Sydney Kumalo at the Polly Street Art Centre.

The centre was located in the hall of Johannesburg and was geared towards students from black schools. It showcased artists from every race, defying race-based segregation that was the result of the government’s white minority apartheid policies that saw blacks displaced into townships that were not part of the cities.

Company As An South Artist

Maqhubela began his career for a company as an artist. However, after 1960 he was hire to create mosaics and paintings in schools, hospitals bars, halls and lounges within and surrounding Soweto township. Skotnes assisted in a request to design four oils for the public structures. The only one that is still in existence can found in Township Scene (1961).

It displays the vitality of the artist, his drawing skills and the use of bold, non-descriptive colour as well as expressive painting techniques that set it apart from the more stale impressions of township life in black prevalent at the time. Despite being in an oppressive apartheid-style environment, Maqhubela excelled and had great success in the beginning of his career.

A Transformational South Trip

He was award the first prize in The Adler Fielding Gallery’s annual Artists of Fame and Promising exhibition in 1966. He won with a huge conte sketch titled Peter’s Decline. The Namibian-born artist Stanley Pinker was the runner-up and Maqhubela was the first to bridge the divide between white and black South African artists. His work highly sought-after.

Maqhubela’s prize consisted of the return flight to Europe Maqhubela was knowledgeable and educated however, the three months spent in Europe changed his work and life.

In the most prestigious galleries and museums He was expose to the masters of Modernism and abstract art. The major Swiss-German exhibition artist Paul Klee’s works in Paris was a major influence on the artist.

In a bid to meet famous artist Francis Bacon, Maqhubela went to St Ives in Cornwall to visit South African-born artist Douglas Portway. In Portway he discovered not just an experienced and talented painter and a friend spirit, someone who was in seeking inspiration and expression beyond.

Metaphysical And Spiritual

What seen and who interest in the metaphysical and spiritual aspects of art. In an interview published on The Star newspaper in 1968 just after his return Maqhubela stated. I learned a lot from Maqhubela. We talked for hours about techniques and art. His personal journey to the source of his divine inspiration was through his studies with Rosicrucian Order. Rosicrucian Order.

Maqhubela’s break from tradition as well as his exuberant new style signified his departure from figurative expressionist that emphasized the human form, and the start of an individual engagement with abstraction in the modernist style, which referred to the forms and shapes.

The process was accompanied by the creation of an iconographic language and language that was influence by his search for spiritual development. His oil paintings on paper or canvas of the 1970s show the thin layers of painting, articulated using scraffito. often completely abstract, other times with images as well as animals and birds emerging from the tangled lines, colours and floating designs.

A New Abstract Artist Emerges

Maqhubela was very successful, however the difficulties that he and his family had to face during the apartheid regime in South Africa proved too great for Maqhubela and his family. They relocated to Ibiza on the Spanish island Ibiza in 1973 before settling in London in 1978.

He was a student at Goldsmiths College (1984-85) and the Slade School of Art (1985-88). In the Slade, Maqhubela was expose to printmaking , and in 1986. He made an entire series of etchings which represent the most significant of his work. The artist continued to display regularly across South Africa, in group and solo exhibitions. And was feature prominently within Esme Berman’s book The Story of South African Painting (1975).

Invigorated by his new surroundings and the work of artists like Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. As well as John McLean, Maqhubela’s work began to become more abstract.

A visit in South Africa in 1994 to feel the joy of liberation that came with the country’s first democratic elections. And then in 2001 for medical attention and a profound influence on Maqhubela. It gave new energy to his work, which brought technological and thematic changes.