- R50 Strauss & Co Masterclass: Life Forces
On Saturday 8 September 2018 at 11:00 Nel Erasmus invites you to join her on a walkabout, telling us about her life’s work. The walkabout will be followed with a lecture by art historian, Elza Miles titled “ Vertrekpunt en riglyn.” Entry fee: R50 per person.
By the time Nel Erasmus arrived as a 25 year old Wits fine arts graduate at the Académie Ranson in Paris in 1953, post-war France was counting its losses but at the same time was exploring the freedom of abstraction as championed by Cubism. It was a time of new possibilities; of carrying forward the torch lit by Paul Cezanne at the end of the 19th century.
As Gustave Singier (1909-1984), one of the lecturers at the Académie, reminded his students: We are all coming from Cezanne.”
At the same time the spirit of Les Nabis, the Post-Impressionist avant-garde group of artists of whom Paul Ranson (1864-1909), the founder of the academy, was a leading member, was still tangible. The Nabis’ belief that art is the end product and visual expression of an artist’s synthesis of nature in personal aesthetic metaphors and symbols became a basis for Erasmus’ practice and approach to art making.
At the Académie, and later on at the Ecole des Beaux Arts and the Sorbonne, she found a new freedom, a form of abstraction that allows a loving regard for the object whilst exploring the inherent tension and movement within the object.
Ever since her first exhibition in Paris in 1955 movement has remained the leitmotiv in her work. Looking back on her oeuvre, Erasmus reflects that it is “motion, always motion” that has characterised her paintings as well as drawings; motion as an intrinsic quality of all living subject matter. A drawing is therefore not a visual description or representation of a galloping horse or a bird in flight, but an exploration of the essence of motion. Her studies of flowers and series of portraits, including the faceless “Sally” series, are characterised by brightly coloured forms in flux. Likewise, a still life or a painting of an inanimate object such a lamp (Warm Lamp Light, 1964) becomes an interplay of foreground and background, of the object “opening up”, releasing its inner “life” in terms of rhythm and energy.
On her return to South Africa she had her first solo exhibition in 1957 and established herself as one of the earliest Abstract artists in the country. She exhibited work in more than thirty solo exhibitions and between 1982 and 1990 her work was regularly shown at Cassirer Fine Art in Rosebank. Since 2007 Erasmus has exhibited regularly at the Dawid Ras Gallery in Sandton.
Johan Myburg (Poet & Arts Writer)
Elza Miles (Botha)
Artist, art historian, teacher, curator, critic, consultant and author
Elza Miles (nee Botha) was born in 1938. In 1960 she obtained a BA in Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria, a BA Honours in Afrikaans-Nederlands (cum laude) in 1962 and a Masters degree in Fine Arts in 1964. She completed her Doctorate in Lit et Phil on Maggie Laubser in 1983 at the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg). She received an Honorary Doctorate in literature from the University of Witwatersrand in 2012.
Miles intermittently taught Art History at Rand Afrikaans University, and Art, Afrikaans and English at different high schools, among which Hoërskool Die Kruin, the first Afrikaans art school on the Rand, and St Barnabas College, Bosmont, Johannesburg.
When her student Elaine Mohammed was arrested after designing a poster commemorating the anniversary of the Communist Party (SACP), Miles joined the Detainees Parents Support Committee (DPSAC). She picketed on Saturday mornings and prepared meals for the vegetarian detainees held at the Fort.
Stanley Bekker en die boikot (1980), a reader for schools dealing with the St Barnabas students’ experiences during the school boycotts, authored by her then husband John Miles, was illustrated by students attending her afternoon classes at St Barnabas. Her three children also contributed illustrations to the book. The reader, published by Taurus, was banned shortly after its publication.
Following this, Miles continued to freelance for Taurus publishers for a number of years. She was in charge of the distribution of most of its publications and often contravened the postal law by mailing banned books. She further contributed to Stet, – also a Taurus publication.
Research about African artists became a passion. Her quest for information about the SA born artist Ernest Mancoba (1904-2002) of whom art historians in South Africa were unaware at the time, led to extensive travels in France, Britain and Denmark (1990). A four month senior research grant by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) enabled this research. In 1994 French and Danish aid assisted her to tie the knots for the ensuing Hand in Hand exhibition which show-cased the art of Ernest Mancoba and his wife, the Danish sculptress Sonja Ferlov (1911-84) at Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG).
Elza spent hours in the State Archives in Pretoria (1992) working through boxes brimful with information. She did extensive fieldwork in Southern Africa: in Botswana, Limpopo (1994), KwaZulu-Natal (1994) and Eastern Cape (2002). Jacob Dhlamini accompanied her to Botswana in 1993 and her son, Karel, in 1994. Very often the route was uncharted and on many occasions the overnight accommodations were hit-or-miss.
From 1998-2000 she researched the visual arts of African artists in South Africa for the Bowmint Collection. This led to her acquaintance in London with Albert Adams (1930-2006), Valerie Desmore (1925-2008) and Louis Maqhubela (born 1939).
In 2006 Elza was the recipient of a fellowship from the Department of Arts and Culture and the Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust enabling her to continue research into the life and work of Selby Mvusi (1929-67).
Her publications include:
- Artists’ Birthday Calendar for Fuba Academy with an accompanying exhibition at the South African Association of Arts, Pretoria (1993)
- Lifeline out of Africa – the art of Ernest Mancoba (1994) which won the Recht Malan Prize (1994), the Old Mutual Literary Award and was honourably mentioned by the Noma awards for publications from Africa in 1995
- Ernest Mancoba – a resource book (1994)
- Land and Lives – the story of early African artists (1997)
- The World of Jean Welz(1997)
- Nomfanekiso who paints at night – the art of Gladys Mgudlandlu (2002)
- Polly Street– the story of an Art Centre (2004).
In addition to writing and publishing, she has been responsible for several major exhibitions. Her first experience of curating a group exhibition occurred in 1986 at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. She invited several creative individuals from different walks of life to interpret the morning when ‘Apartheid was no more’ in the After Apartheid exhibition.
For the Johannesburg Art Gallery she curated:
- Hand in hand (1994-95) Current of Africa – the art of Selby Mvusi (1996)
- Land and Lives (1997)
- Gladys Mgudlandlu(2002)
Miles uses her maiden name, Botha, when it comes to her own art. She is known for her feminist work of the 1960s and 1970s and for her politically inspired art of the 1980s and 1990s. As a printmaker she favours black and white lino and woodcuts, but also works in mixed media on paper and has produced important sculptural work making use of found objects. Some of her wood- , lino cuts and drawings are held by the Johannesburg Art Gallery, Iziko National Art Gallery, Cape Town, several South African and American university art collections as well as corporate collections in South Africa.
Miles Botha is a recipient of the Vita Award, the Recht Malan Prize and the Old Mutual Award.