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Figures from the unconscious
BORN 1947 in Lemana in the then Northern
SCHOOLING: various schools in Gauteng
HOME BASE: I have lived in Johannesburg,
Gauteng, since 1978
1967-70: BA at the University of Natal,
Pietermaritzburg, majoring in Fine Art and English.
1980-85: Full time study at the Johannesburg
Art Foundation. The head, Bill Ainslie, was
a sensuous formalist for whom paint carried
meaning in its every inflection of mark or
colour. Under him I explored Abstract
TRAVEL: My extended travels in Europe in
1977 and 1985 were accelerated learning
experiences – seeing great works in the flesh;
and searching out connections between
different societies, periods and movements.
EXHIBITIONS: I have taken part in many group
exhibitions – showing drawings; paintings;
prints (including etchings, monoprints, relief
prints and screenprints); also ceramics; and
some sculpture – from 1970 to the present.
2009: Painting Performance with Juanita Frier
at Wits Theatre, at Jozi Spoken Word Festival
2009: Four paintings on Group Show at
Gallery G, Benmore Gardens
2008: Performance drawing with Juanita Frier
at Market Theatre Laboratory accompanying a
Botsotso Poetry Reading
2006: Two-person show with Nicholas
Hauser, gallery of the National School of the
2006: Group show with Peter Mammes, Joe
Redtree, Devlin Tim (ex-students of mine) and
Martinus van Tee, at the Carfax Gallery,
Acrylic on paper or on canvas;
Indian ink, conté;
Printmaking (especially relief prints, etchings,
STYLE: My style could be defined as
figuration; but a figuration that allows the
medium and the process to be explicit. Two
1 From life: Portraits, figures, landscapes. My
paint handling is generally broadly muscular
to generate the speed needed to capture a
2 From within: Works improvised,
unpremeditated, often playful in the use of
line and shape and colour. They tend to grow
out of my life experiences; but they are also
archetypal, not limited to me...
Thinking with my hands: As a first year
university student, feeling overwhelmed by
cerebral pressures, I started carving a piece
of wood. I needed to think and to shape with
my hands. The next year I enrolled for Fine
Arts. I’m alert to stains or spatters on a page
today, as I was to the grain of that wood.
The Unconscious: Bushman (San) trance painting gave me a way in to areas of the unconsciousness. In a significant dream in the mid-1990’s, I saw ancient paintings – figures, animals, shamans – on a wall; but they were not Bushman work, I realised, they were from my ancestors. Waking, I drew them; and explored them over the next months. I still use them.
PORTRAITS: So much of our being is concentrated in the face. We stare, striving to read the person.
I paint faces hungrily, looking at shape, angle, colour.
I risk: I brush on paint without preliminary drawings; adjust; must figure out when to stop.
Here’s the painter, here’s the sitter – and between them, this third thing, the portrait, carrying something of each and of their relationship.
A painting that carries likeness is a gift – and a mystery. (I’m told I capture an uncanny likeness.)
But a good portrait must be more than a likeness – it has to be a vivid painting in its own right.
I do portrait commissions – please contact me.
LOOKING AT PAINTINGS is a vital part of an artist’s education. It shows what is possible with paint. Five of my many masters:
Picasso is an icon: his immediacy and speed; the personal nature, diary-like, of almost everything he did; his energy; his commitment to making.
At an exhibition of Kokoschka’s lithographs at the National Gallery in Cape Town in 1971 I was inspired that marks could be so ragged and yet so right. An inspired portraitist, too.
Edvard Munch and Picasso open up printmaking for me through their curiosity and inventiveness in exploring materials and process. In my relief prints, monoprints and etchings I play with stuff, and problem-solve technical complexities.
Walter Battiss’s work is playful and inventive. He explored many styles and mediums. My simplified figures began in his.
Bill Ainslie’s energetic mark making and trust of process influence me deeply. I studied under him from 1980-85.
POETRY: I write poems in much the same spirit as I paint.
© All of the images on this website are copyrighted original artworks by their author and are protected by international copyright law. No materials in this gallery may be reproduced, copied, downloaded, or used in any form without written permission of the contemporary artist Lionel Murcott.