It’s true, we’re as gutted as you are not to be enjoying the Turbine Art Fair at the Turbine Hall in Newtown. The building, aside from its relevant location, has a serving of industrial history that few others can replicate. Having said that, this year’s event at its new address in Sandton offers a glut of enticing features, exhibitions and booths to get excited about with a show that will be bigger than ever before. As always, the fair’s aim is to develop emerging artists and bring talent into a more accessible arena, pricing the majority of its pieces below R50,000.
This year, we’ll be beating a path to the third annual Strauss & Co exhibition: A Meeting of Minds. Collectors both fledgling and established look forward to the Strauss & Co feature each year for its in-depth curation of the work of historic artists, a feature which endeavors to educate an inquisitive, art-loving public.
Louis Khehla Maqhubela and Douglas Portway, South African artists from vastly different backgrounds, met in Cornwall, in England, in 1967. That chance meeting changed the course of their work. Strauss & Co’s retrospective, curated by Wilhelm van Rensburg, will look at the dualities of the artists’ work after that meeting, as well as what sets their work apart.
“Both artists started out at very different points in the art world, Maqhubela as part of the Soweto artists group painting township scenes and Portway, with formal tertiary art education, influenced by the classical period of Pablo Picasso,” explains Van Rensburg. But in the 1950s and 1960s their styles turned radically to a more sustained abstraction, despite the broader taste for naturalism and realism. We chatted to Van Rensburg about the artists.
What would surprise us to learn about Maqhubela and Portway? The most interesting thing is that they were both interested in Zen-Buddhism and that they were both ardent fans of Swiss artist Paul Klee, without knowing it! What value do their paintings hold for investors? Portway’s market is very strong and big works can fetch anything between R200,000 and a good half a million on the secondary market and Maqhubela’s large-scale paintings are fast catching up with such prices. Both artists’ works on paper are still very affordable at auction. One of the main similarities in their work? After meeting in 1967, it is interesting to note that both favoured a highly abstract background with some form of scratching or stylized engraved image on/in the surface. And one of the main differences? Maqhubela’s work became much, much more abstract with large, highly colourful flat surfaces, while Portway introduced geometric shapes and forms into his hazy backgrounds.
Which of their works should we look out for in particular? Portway’s Still Centre, 1971, (on page 9 of the electronic catalogue) and an untitled work by Maqhubela (on pages 24 and 25 of the catalogue). In his work, Portway creates a perfect synthesis between organic and geometric shapes in and against an evocative background, playing with our normal sense of perspective. Maqhubela’s sheer joy in making the work is clearly evident in his large-scale work, with great colouring and his signature stylized, calligraphic motifs all over the picture plane.
Article by Mila Crewe-Brown for Business Day Wanted, 10 July 2019.