Lionel Murcott

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Figures from the unconscious

Lionel Murcott - Enter the gallery



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

main areas:

1 From life: Portraits, figures, landscapes. My

paint handling is generally broadly muscular

to generate the speed needed to capture a

moving target.

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.
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