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Ephraim Ngatane

Exhibition and Book launch at Johans Borman Fine Art, CT


Thursday 26 August @ 6:30 pm

Ephraim Ngatane: Kwela boys (Penny whistlers) - 1967


Ephraim Ngatane: Exhibition and Book launch- “A Setting Apart”
Presentation by co-author Natalie Knight at Johans Borman Fine Art, CT Thursday 26
August @ 6:30 pm

An exhibition of selected oil and watercolour paintings by the artist will be on show until
11 September.

Ngatane walks that tightrope from which many fall. He captures the warmth of township people, even
with a tinge of nostalgia, yet never glosses over the hardship and degradation represented by shacks,
dirt roads and stray dogs. He eulogises the poor but never glamorises poverty.
David Smith, The Guardian (UK)

'After a hard week' 74 x 54 cm


'Coal cart' (1965) 48 x 65 cm
'Edenvale Location, The Slums' (1967) 56,7 x 75,5 cm
'Pimville Location (The Slums)' (1966) 75 x 99 cm
'Sacrifice for the dead Amadlozi' 58 x 76,5 cm
'Snow scene, township' 59,5 x 76 cm
'The carpenters' 49 x 67,5 cm
'Township scene with donkey cart' (1968) 60,5 x 76 cm
'Young man' (1965) 32 x 24 cm
Ephraim Ngatane (1938 – 1971)
Ephraim Ngatane was born in Maseru, Lesotho on 22 August 1938, and moved to Orlando

West, Soweto, Johannesburg in 1943 with his parents, where he lived and worked until his

early death in March 1971, at age 33. Taking artistic inspiration from his daily experience of

urban black township life on the Witwaterstrand during the 1950’s and 60’s, his paintings are

today regarded as important documents of social realism, authentically depicting township

life during this period.

At the Mooki Memorial College in Orlando, Ngatane’s artistic talent was recognised early on

by his primary school teacher Mrs E.L. Mooki, who convinced his parents to allow him to

pursue an artistic career. The loose, free-flowing watercolour technique taught by Cecil

Skotnes at the Polly Street Art Centre appealed to Ngatane during his studies there between

1952 and 1954, resulting in him developing a personal approach which stylistically differed

from the tradition of township expressionism. In 1955, Ngatane joined the ‘weekend artist’s

group’ of Durant Sihlali, where in contrast to the formal art classes, more naturalistic and

documentary subject matter were explored using watercolours. When the group, which

included artists like Louis Maqhubela and Sydney Kumalo, broke up in 1960, Sihlali and

Ngatane carried on until the mid 1960’s.

Ngatane documented township life in all it forms, from the overcrowded living conditions to

the social entertainment, sport and memorable events like the two occasions it snowed in

Johannesburg during the 1960’s. As an accomplished jazz alto-saxophonist, he also painted

lively music and dance scenes, where his individual style of abstraction managed to

successfully capture the energy and movement. Stylistically, his masterful command of the

watercolour medium displays a painterly sense of abstraction which distinguishes his work

from the descriptive styles of most other township artists.

As a frail child, Ngatane had contracted tuberculosis and was eventually submitted to the

Charles Hurwitz South African National Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Soweto in 1964, shortly
after his second solo exhibition at the Adler Fielding Galleries in May that year. While

receiving treatment at the sanatorium, Ngatane met Dumile Feni who had been admitted the

year before. Together they completed a number of murals in the sanatorium, of which only

one has been preserved.

Although Ngatane experimented with different techniques, he only started working

predominantly in oils in the mid 1960’s. Many of his later oil paintings were composed in a

much more abstracted style, where his subject matter became fragmented, often to the point

where it disintegrated into purely abstracted shapes and colours, forming its own rhythmic

balance. Ngatane’s successful grasp of abstraction and his ability to apply it to his preferred

subject matter in watercolour as well as oils, definitely confirms his status as one of the great

talents in South African Modernism.

Selected bibliography:

Powell, Ivor and Proud, Hayden (Ed.) (2006), Revisions – Expanding the Narrative of South

African Art. Cape Town: SA History Online and UNISA Press, page 154

Miles, Elza (2004), Polly Street – The Story of an Art Centre. Johannesburg: The Ampersand

Foundation, pages 42, 94 to 97

Borman, Johans and Siebrits, Warren (2001), Aspects of South African Art 1903 - 1999.

Johannesburg. Ref. No’s. 21 and 22

Goodman Gallery, Michal Stevenson, Deon Viljoen (2002), South African Art 1850 – 2002.

Johannesburg. Ref. No. 22