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Thirty Years of L'Atelier
by Marilyn de Freitas posted on May 14, 2015.

Penny Siopis - Melancholia (1986)

In 1986, Penny Siopis won the first coveted Volkskas Bank Atelier Competition with a Baroque banquet inspired painting Melancholia. The competition was renamed in 1999 to the Absa Atelier Competition, then in 2002 to Absa L'Atelier. 2015 sees the competition enters another new chapter as it becomes part of the Barclays Africa fold and opens up to Botswana, Ghana, Zambia and Kenya. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of the competition, Barclays Africa and the Absa gallery presents recent works by previous L'Atelier and Gerard Sekoto winners on display at the gallery from 13 - 29 May 2015

"Each of the recipients has carved a unique niche for themselves on the art landscape and this exhibition showcases these individual talents, how they have matured and where they stand today as artists," says Dr Paul Bayliss, Absa Art and Museum Curator. The L'Atelier is now one of the longest running art competitions of its kind in Africa and has seen the likes of Diane Victor, Paul Edmunds, Marco Cianfanelli, Conrad Botes and others winning it at the start of their careers. The competition helps kick-start young artists' careers by giving them international exposure and experience through residencies throughout the world such as at the Cite Internationale des Art in Paris, the Sylt Foundation in Germany and the Ampersand Foundation in New York.

Isabel Mertz
Left: Anthropomorphic spaces III (2011) | Right: Nose Dive (2014)

The exhibition features artworks by Bongumenzi Ngobese, Clive van den Berg, Elrie Joubert, Isabel Mertz, Marco Cianfanelli, Paul Edmunds, Lawrence Lemoana, Liberty Battson and more. The exhibition aims to showcase how the artist's have developed over their careers. 2012 winner Elrie Joubert's work has moved from the installation that won her the award to detailed intricate drawings whereas 2011 Gerard Sekoto winner Isabel Mertz continues her exploration of the urban landscape, travel and maps. Berco Wilsenach's artistic style has also grown in aesthetic maturity since his win in 2005 where he continues to his visual embodiment and exploration of science.

Diane Victor
Left: The problem with being a God these days (1988) | Right: But the angel wanted to turn back (2015)

Perhaps one of South Africa's most renowned artists, Diane Victor was one of the youngest winners of the L'Atelier art competition at the time in 1988, right after completing her BA in Fine Arts from Wits University. Victor states that winning the award gave her the confidence to continue working as an artist at a time when there was very little support for the arts and almost no chance to survive financially. The art residency provided a 10-month escape from the violence of the time and provide her opportunity to develop as an artist. She now works using alternative mediums such as smoke, ash, water stain in combination to her traditional use of charcoal, pastel and printmaking.

Over the years, the L'Atelier competition has been the launch pad for the careers of many local artists who have become household names on the global stage. It has become a much-anticipated annual highlight on the calendars of young and emerging artists who thrive on the exposure of their work through the competition. As art lovers, we can only keep an eye on the L'Atelier competition as new artists are discovered and born.


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