South African art - Alexis Preller

31 Oct 2017

Hailed as one of Africa’s leading modern artists of the 20th Century, Alexis Preller's (1911-1975) most significant works were for many years 'lost', represented only by black and white photographs taken at the artist’s studio.

It is only recently that some of these works, that had been purchased and left South Africa, have returned and are now up for sale. Art historian and scholar Karel Nel, remarks that when a crate of artworks by Preller arrived from New York to go on sale in South Africa in 2016 he felt like the archaeologist Howard Carter must have felt discovering the ancient tomb of Tutankhamun.

Preller’s influences were many, from his service in the ambulance corps during World War II and time spent as a POW to his interest in African art, and particularly in masks, and his travels in Europe and North Africa.

A serious and dedicated man, Preller worked with great intensity and his work is complex, and many-layered. Something that makes the experience of viewing the diverse pieces incredibly compelling. You want to look, and look some more. There are always mysterious elements, dreamlike landscapes or figures that are intriguing.

As Nel says, “there is a great difference between prettiness and beauty, and Preller created inordinate beauty.”

This feature is part of an on-going series highlighting the works of South Africa's most celebrated artists. Previous features have included profiles on JH Pierneef and Vladimir Tretchikoff.


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