South African Art
South African Art: The impact of African forms
While artists such as Welz and Van Essche brought European techniques to African subject matter, African forms themselves began to have an impact on the work of white artists in South Africa. An awareness of art forms ranging from those of the ancient Egyptians to Bushman (or San) rock art increasingly influenced these artists from the 1950s onwards.
Such elegant stylisations arguably had an impact on Battiss's other work (in a wide range of media and styles), which also drew on strains like pop art emerging from Europe and the United States from the late 1950s onward. Yet the jaunty playfulness which runs through all of his oeuvre is entirely his own.
Alexis Preller, for instance, created fantastically detailed canvases influenced by the European surrealists of the 1920s and 1930s. Beginning in the late 1940s, Preller painted African scenes and themes such as The Kraal and Hieratic Women, but these were not realistic portraits of African life: instead, they were reimagined and reinvented by Preller's startling visual imagination. Tropes such as sea shells and the lineaments of Ndebele dolls are reworked to create a highly personal symbolic and mythological realm, one that later grew to incorporate images from European culture and myth into Preller's own idiosyncratic style.
Cecil Skotnes, by contrast, took a leaf from Picasso's book. The revolution in European art instigated by the great Spaniard had, in part, been generated by his appreciation of African masks and the fractured simplicity with which they depicted human forms.
Skotnes (who worked closely with both black urban artists and had contacts with dealers in African art) became South Africa's master of the woodcut, bringing European modernism into fruitful collision with African styles, though in the end his visual style is instantly recognisable as utterly his own. He moved into other forms (such as concrete intaglio, for instance), always finding new ways to reanimate the human figure with a simultaneously primaeval and sophisticated power.
abstraction and texture
Anna Vorster and Erik Laubscher moved into increasing stylisation and toward abstraction. Others, such as Gunther van der Reis and Gordon Vorster, used an acute textural sense to evoke the close-up feel of the South African wilds.
Still others pushed further and further toward abstraction, while retaining in their forms and textures a reminiscence of the African landscape. Such works range from the increasingly interior geometric symbolism of Bettie Cilliers Barnard to the interaction of natural and urban forms in the work of Larry Scully or the freely gestural sweep of George Boys.
A Brief History of Art in South Africa: