Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows

Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows

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‘Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows’ runs at the Standard Bank Gallery untill Saturday, 5th December 2009. A retrospective exhibition, it showcases the work of Alexis Preller (1911-1975).

Preller was a major South African artist, whose unconventional form of expression was impossible to classify in terms of the mainstream art movements of his time. He studied in London and Paris in the 1930s, where he absorbed the language of Western modernism to the extent that a critic, who had seen his work on a 1937 group exhibition in Johannesburg, called him ‘South Africa’s Gauguin’. He was also influenced by Van Gogh and later by the frescoes of Piero della Francesca.

In search of an aesthetic “rooted in the Africa soil”, as he put it, Preller drew his initial inspiration from the Ndebele people, who lived in the Pretoria vicinity, where he spent most of his life. To realise his goal to become an African modernist, he travelled to other parts of Africa, visiting Swaziland, the Seychelles, Zanzibar, Egypt and the Congo. While in Paris, he also sought inspiration from the African sculptures in the Trocadero Museum.

As an avant-garde artist, Preller’s contribution to South African art lies in his synthesis of the language of modernism and a distinctly African frame of reference. By incorporating African influences, he broke away from the European tradition and developed a new form of artistic expression.

In his art, Preller created a world of signs and symbols, shaping a private cosmology in which the myths of humankind are interconnected and interwoven – those from Greece, Egypt and African cultures, for example.

During the course of his 40-year career, Preller concentrated solely on his art, working daily in his studio and producing a vast number of exuberantly coloured imaginative compositions. ‘Alexis Preller: Africa, the Sun and Shadows’ showcases a wide selection of the artist’s work, as well as a number of artefacts, documents and photographs relevant to his life. A contribution to understanding Preller as one of South Africa’s pre-eminent artists, and as a pioneer who defined an African style in the 20th century, the exhibition follows the last major exhibition of the artist’s oeuvre – the Retrospective Exhibition at the Pretoria Art Museum in 1972.

Date: Exhibition runs until Saturday, 5th December
Gallery hours: Mon-Fri, 08:00-16:30; Saturday, 09:00-13:00
Cost: Admission is free

For further information follow the links alongside.

Jerry had a chance to visit the exhibition. Click here to read his review.

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