Archive: Issue No. 71, July 2003

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David Koloane

David Koloane
Classified, 2003
Mixed media on canvass
98 x 92cm

David Koloane

David Koloane
Tower, 1999
Mixed media on canvas

David Koloane

David Koloane
Derelicts, 2000
Acrylic on canvas

David Koloane

David Koloane
Prayer Meeting, 1994
Oil pastel on paper

David Koloane

David Koloane
Made in South Africa (Twilight), 1994
Oil pastel on paper

David Koloane

David Koloane
Made in South Africa (Totem), 1995
Acrylic on canvas

David Koloane
by Sean O'Toole (July, 2003)

Speaking to the artist, educator, curator and facilitator David Koloane, one cannot but help notice how his narratives tend to seamlessly shift between the singular and the collective experience. When he speaks, the pronouns I and we are used interchangeably, without pause. It is an unconscious habit, one that tends to offer an interesting perspective on the artist's importance and stature in the black art community - and indeed South Africa's art community generally.

Co-founder of Johannesburg's first black art gallery in the late 1970s, David Koloane's biography reads like a potted history of contemporary black visual art in South Africa. In the 1960s he was a young apprentice with the Polly Street group of artists ("it was basically the first place where black artists could come together under one roof in Johannesburg," says Koloane); between 1974 and 1977 he served an apprenticeship under Bill Ainslie at the Johannesburg Art Foundation; and in July 1982, Koloane was the visual arts coordinator of a pivotal rally of arts and culture workers, the Culture and Resistance Festival held in Botswana.

More recently, Koloane is credited with co-founding (along with Robert Loder) The Bag Factory studio and gallery space in downtown Johannesburg. Also, and quite significantly, he curated the South African component of an international retrospective of African art, 'Seven Stories About Modern Art In Africa', staged at London's Whitechapel Art Gallery (1995) and later shown at the Guggenheim in New York (1996). Koloane's selections for this show evidenced his uncompromising view of how South African history has influenced this country's artistic output.

An early proponent of township realism, Koloane's post-liberation (1990) works have tended towards what critic Ivor Powel defines as a "primal stylistic chaos". Willingly naïve, and yet gloriously unconscious of this paradox, Koloane's work shares something of the abstract intentionality of Jean Michel Basquiat. His work is also characterised by its recurring subject matter (particularly townships scenes, dogs, cityscapes, jazz music), and tends to offer a curious blend of sombre epiphanies and mesmerised celebrations of our collectivity as human beings.


"Koloane's interpretation of urban life has struggled and triumphed in finding different visions and modes, techniques, materials to express the huge oppressions, upheavals, and hard-won freedoms that have been epitomised in our cities' sprawl� His art is inward testimony� When we receive his painting and drawings we are not merely looking, we are drawn into discoveries about the process and spaces of living. And its endless mystery."
Nadine Gordimer, Preface to David Koloane: Taxi 006. David Krut Publishing: Johannesburg, 2002

"David Koloane, perhaps more illuminatingly than any other artist in this country, stands at the interface between international modernism and the uncomfortable and generally market-driven traditions of black South African art."
Ivor Powell, 'David Koloane' in Art South Africa, Vol. 1, No. 2, Summer 2002.

"A major, senior artist whose role as facilitator has gained importance with the passing of time."
Matthew Krouse, M&G, July 2, 2002

"Koloane is a collector of small treasures found in the streets, in a corner, under a heap. A tireless digger searching in the garbage of our existence."
Veronique Tadjo, David Koloane: Taxi 006. David Krut Publishing: Johannesburg, 2002


"Haphazard": this singular word is how David Koloane encapsulates his working method. It is a wonderfully elusive description, succinct too in its evocation of a contradictory basket of meanings (accidental, arbitrary, aimless, disorderly, indiscriminate, unsystematic). What makes it further apt is how these synonyms all seem to find application in the artist's output. Neither is Koloane restricted to any particular material. His art encompasses oil paintings, graphite works on paper, pastel drawings and mixed media assemblages.

"When I do the assemblages, I work from an impulse," he explains. "It is as if there is something driving me from within which I cannot explain. It is not a cerebral process; rather it is similar to the process of somebody who doesn't have a studio, someone without an education." Further elaborating on this methodology, one which evinces an acute awareness of history and the collective experience (the artist always mindful of the constituency from which he was plucked), Koloane goes on to state: "I think my art is just the coordination and transformation of objects into something meaningful. Being able to surprise myself in the process has been a central thing in my creative expression, finding things I never expected." (Interview: June 26, 2003)


On Abstraction:
"In 1977 and 1978 I started experimenting with collage, and I took some of these pieces to Gallery 21. The first thing the owner said was that I didn't do the work. And I said what did he mean by that? And he said no, because this is so un-African. He said for that reason he didn't feel comfortable buying it." 'David Koloane and Ivor Powell: In Conversation' from Clementine Deliss (ed.), Seven Stories About Modern Art In Africa. Flammarion: Paris, 1995, p.263.
"In the early 1980s, the FUBA gallery had a workshop programme to improve our expression. When we had these workshops, the artists would play around with colour. Most of the work was abstract in nature. The results fascinated a lot of us; we were not aware that we could produce work of that scale. Some of the artists took to it naturally, not because they were simply emulating some American abstract-expressionist, but because they were working from their own deeper meanings, exploring how they could employ colour. Some of the work from that period was really amazing� All the artists really began to understand what painting was all about, that colour played a very important role in painting... I have never really felt there to be a crucial division between abstraction and figuration. I always feel there is figuration in abstraction." (Interview: June 26, 2003)

On Found Objects:
"It is within every artist to bring to life what has been thrown away, to enliven and revive what most people see as nothing. That is part of a global art tradition, and is not necessarily European. If you think of an artist such as Noria Mabasa, who has had no formal education, she produces powerful works from wood objects she finds in the veld. She carves these wood pieces into something meaningful, almost conceptual in a sense. I see no reason why she should be ignored over some young person who does meaningless video work of an eye blinking for ten seconds. And yes, there is continuity between her wandering through the veld and me looking for things in the city." (Interview: June 26, 2003)

On Johannesburg:
"Johannesburg has always been a squatter settlement." (David Koloane: Taxi 006, p.29.)


Koloane has just exhibited (June 2003) at the Goodman Gallery. His solo show, titled 'Rituals', showcased more than ten years worth work, including Koloane's recent assemblage pieces. Sculptural paintings created in mixed media, usually discarded objects collected by the artist, emerging critic Brenton Maart characterised the artist's Voice box piece as "devoid of agency and powerful, abject and strengthened by ritualistic mediation". Using a variety of packaging materials (boxes, sealing wax, packing tape) to construct his works, Koloane revealed his working materials to be more than just that. According to Maart, they serve to interrogate the packaging of black artists, the false notions of modernism/s which circumscribe their output, the dialectic between inside and outside, the dichotomy of centre and periphery.

'Rituals' is not Koloane's first solo show at the Goodman Gallery, the artist showing there almost annually since 1997. Other prominent recent engagements include a show at the National Art Gallery of Malaysia, as well as his participation on 'Liberated Voices' (2000) at New York's Museum of African Art.

Tower(1999), a mixed media piece characteristic of this period in his career, is an expressionistic portrait of the Hillbrow Tower. The work perfectly blends Koloane's unrestrained appreciation for colour with a more subtle sense of gloom, although Koloane avers that the city is most "magical" at night. In terms of its subject matter, Tower is also a work that best articulates Koloane's constant fascination with Johannesburg as a beacon of hope.


In 1995, Koloane was asked to curate the South African section of 'Seven Stories About Modern Art In Africa'. Unlike the hit and miss Johannesburg Biennale of the same year, Koloane's show was tightly honed. Koloane's selection evidenced a clear-sighted awareness of the socio-political context in which South African artists operates. "The pervasive role played by politics in the existence of the South African populace affects both victims and perpetrators alike, and therefore every sphere of life," he wrote in the accompanying catalogue.

The early 1990s was quite significant for Koloane, not only because of the wider political context. Koloane's involvement with Robert Loder, a London-based art collector, and his Triangle International Workshop in Zimbabwe would eventually lead to the formation of The Bag Factory studios, in 1991. Not always appreciated for what it offers, the space is intimately associated with the careers of Pat Mautloa, Sam Nhlengethwa, Joachim Schonfeldt and Mark Attwood, if not a whole generation of Johannesburg-based artists - black and white.


Between 1961 and 1972, Louis Maqhubela guided Koloane's early development, before leaving South Africa for Europe to further his own career. From 1974 to 1977, Koloane attended art classes at the Bill Ainslie Studios. His professional turning point came in 1975 when he held his first exhibition with Michael Zondi, already an established sculptor in his own right. Two years later Koloane opened the FUBA (Federated Union of Black Artists) gallery in the bustling centre of cultural protest, Johannesburg's Market Theatre precinct. In 1983, Koloane received an invitation by the Triangle International Artists Workshop to visit New York. The experience of working together with artists from different nationalities was to have a profound effect on the artist, and would ultimately lead to the formation of The Bag Factory studios, with Robert Loder.

When not tinkering about his studio (#3) in Minaar Street, Koloane must attend to the administration of The Bag Factory studios while entertaining the usual retinue of international curators. As with many jobbing artists in South Africa he must split his allegiances between his own work and the responsibilities of writing for the occasional exhibition catalogue or making speaker's notes for engagements both locally and abroad. He is also a board member of the National Arts Council of SA.

David Nthubu Koloane was born on June 5, 1938, in Alexandra, a township situated northeast of Johannesburg. Although he expressed an interest in visual arts at school already his father's illness compelled Koloane to leave school before graduating. A self-taught artist, Koloane's talents were tutored by his participation on numerous workshops. In 1985 he received a Diploma in Museum Studies from the University of London.

Select Exhibitions:

2002 - Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg; National Art Gallery of Malaysia
2000 - 'Liberated Voices', Museum of African Art, New York
1990 - South African Mural exhibition, I.C.A. Gallery, London, England; 'Art from South Africa', Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England
1989 - 'African Encounter', Dome Gallery, New York; 'The Neglected Tradition', Johannesburg Art Gallery
1988 - Standard Bank National Drawing Competition; Pachipamwe International Artists Workshop, Zimbabwe National Gallery, Harare, Zimbabwe
1987 - 'Contemporary Black Artists', Academy Art Gallery, Paris, France; Vita Art Now, Johannesburg Art Gallery
1985 - Fuba Gallery, with Ben Ntsusha, Johannesburg; Gallery 198, with Dumile Feni and Louis Maqhubela, London, England
1982 - 'Art towards social development', National Gallery and Museum, Gaborone, Botswana
1979 - Bill Ainslie Studios, Gallery, Johannesburg; Gallery 101, Johannesburg
1978 - Black Expo '78, Johannesburg

Select Collections:

Larry Poons Collection, New York; Robert Loder Collection, London; Anthony Caro Collection, London; Franka Severin Collection; Johannesburg Art Gallery; South African National Gallery, Cape Town; Botswana National Museum and Gallery Gaborone; South African Higher Education Trust Collection, Johannesburg; BMW Collection, Germany; Department of Education and Training, Pretoria; and numerous private collections in South Africa and abroad.

Select Publications:

Veronique Tadjo, David Koloane: Taxi 006. David Krut Publishing: Johannesburg, 2002
Esme Berman, Painting In South Africa. Southern Book Publishers, Halfway House, 1993, p. 363.
Frank Herreman and M. D'amato, Liberated Voices: Contemporary Art from South Africa. The Museum of African Art: New York, 1999, p.27.
Andre Magnin and Jacques Soulillou, Contemporary Art of Africa. Thames and Hudson: New York, 1996, pp. 155 - 156 and p. 158.
Sue Williamson and Ashraf Jamal, Art in South Africa: The Future Present. David Philip Publishers: Claremont, 1996, pp. 134 - 139.
Clementine Deliss (ed.), Seven Stories About Modern Art In Africa. Flammarion: Paris, 1995, pp. 140 - 156 and pp. 261 - 265 (in conversation with Ivor Powell).


Alan Alborough
(July 2000)
Jane Alexander
(July 1999)
Siemon Allen
(June 2001)
Willie Bester
(Aug 1999)
Willem Boshoff
(Aug 2001)
Conrad Botes
(Dec 2001)
Andries Botha
(April 2000)
Wim Botha
(April 2003)
Kevin Brand
(June 1998)
Candice Breitz
(Oct 1998)
Lisa Brice
(Jan 1999)
Angela Buckland
(March 2003)
Pitso Chinzima
(Oct 2001)
Marco Cianfanelli
(Aug 2002)
Steven Cohen
(May 1998)
Leora Farber
(May 2002)
Bronwen Findlay
(April 2002)
Kendell Geers
(June 2002)
Linda Givon
(Dec 1999)
David Goldblatt
(Dec 2002)
Thembinkosi Goniwe
(Oct 2002)
Brad Hammond
(Jan 2001)
Randolph Hartzenberg
(Aug 1998)
Kay Hassan
(Oct 2000)
Stephen Hobbs
(Dec 1998)
Robert Hodgins
(June 2000)
William Kentridge
(May 1999)
Isaac Khanyile
(Nov 2001)
Dorothee Kreutzfeld
(Jan 2000)
Terry Kurgan
(Aug 2000)
Moshekwa Langa
(Feb 1999)
Chris Ledochowski
(June 2003)
Kim Lieberman
(May 2003)
Mandla Mabila
(Sept 2001)
Veronique Malherbe
(June 1999)
Mustafa Maluka
(July 1998)
Senzeni Marasela
(Feb 2000)
Santu Mofokeng
(July 2002)
Zwelethu Mthethwa
(April 1999)
Thomas Mulcaire
(April 2001)
Brett Murray
(Sept 1998)
Hylton Nel
(Feb 2002)
Karel Nel
(Oct 1999)
Walter Oltmann
(July 2001)
Malcolm Payne
(Nov 2002)
Tracy Payne
(Mar 1998)
Peet Pienaar
(Dec 2000)
Jo Ractliffe
(Mar 1999)
Robin Rhode
(Nov 1999)
Tracey Rose
(Mar 2001)
Claudette Schreuders
(Sept 2000)
Berni Searle
(May 2000)
Berni Searle (update)
(Jan 2003)
Usha Seejarim
(May 2001)
Penny Siopis
(Sept 1999)
Dave Southwood
(Mar 2002)
Doreen Southwood
(Sept 2002)
Greg Streak
(Feb 2001)
Clive van den Berg
(Nov 1998)
Hentie van der Merwe
(Mar 2000)
Strijdom van der Merwe
(Jan 2002)
Minnette Vári
(Feb 1998)
Diane Victor
(Feb 2003)
Jeremy Wafer
(Nov 2000)