A Spiritual Spring

Cape Times (South Africa), November 12, 2010 | Go to article overview

A Spiritual Spring


HE'S LIKE the Bheki Mseleku of jazz. His artworks are contemporary, timeless and musical.

In his lifetime, 71-year-old Louis Maqhubela has created significant historical works. Like all good artists he closely studied the masters and fluidly recontextualised creating work that was and is uniquely his own.

Maqhubela is widely celebrated for breaking free from the conventions of "township art" and reinterpreting South Africa's socio-political historical context.

He worked with visionary artists and arts teachers Cecil Skotnes and Sydney Kumalo at the Polly Street Art Centre in Joburg in the late 1950s. This was an excellent training ground not only for Maqhubela but an entire generation of artists.

And it was here that Maqhubela stood out. Professor and poet Kelwyn Sole said of Maqhubela and this generation of artists: "Art needed to become like music: instead of reflecting reality, it would try to create a new reality, more illuminating and more sublime than the lived experience under apartheid."

After Maqhubela had travelled overseas, his influences grew and his work became decidedly more abstract. Respected art historian Marilyn Martin, a former director of Iziko SA National Gallery, is the curator of Maqhubela's epic retrospective, A Vigil of Departure (1960-2010).

Martin explained: "Maqhubela's work is influenced by his spirituality and a profound humanism, inner joy and affirmation of life that transcends technique and analysis; they spring from a deep spiritual and metaphysical well.

"He is a student of the Rosicrucian Order and as he himself says, he has a genuine interest in metaphysical, scientific and mystical subjects."

Martin has impressively amassed key earlier works sourced from private, public and corporate collections, works that span this artist's lifetime and wonderfully reflect his forever exploring, experimenting, spirited nature.

A Vigil of Departure is as beautiful as it is historical. It is a view into a world of visions offering a rare window into the mind of a humble artist, who, thanks to Martin, is deservedly acknowledged and remembered, and duly praised for his significant contribution to the history of South African art.

"I can't tell you what a joy it was to work on this exhibition," said Martin sitting among the Maqhubela artworks.

"I spent time in the Iziko National Gallery Library where the books from the 1960s are beautifully indexed. It was a great pleasure to do research and then create from that research a Maqhubela archive. …

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