SMAC Art Gallery is proud to present a Major Retrospective Exhibition of the work of Erik Laubscher, a leading figure in Post-War South Africa art. Looking back at almost fifteen decades of art making, the exhibition includes more than a hundred paintings that represents his London and Paris periods, abstract and hard edge works as well as his later expressionist landscapes. A collection of photographic work and drawings are also exhibited.
The exhibition coincides with the launch of Erik Laubscher: A life in Art written by Dr Hans Fransen and published by SMAC Art Gallery. Additional contributions by Elza Miles, Melvyn Minnaar and Abraham de Vries.
Laubscher studied in London and Paris and returned to South Africa in 1951 with a strong Formalist grounding. His early paintings were influenced by Post-Cubist trends and the School of Paris. His studies under Fernand Léger would prove to be important and influence his work at a later stage.
Regular visits to his family retreat at Bushman’s River in the Eastern Cape led to a significant breakthrough in his art, where theory and practice merged in a series of studies of Euphorbia plants. These plants, which dominate the landscape in the area, had fascinated the artist since his youth. In this ground-breaking body of work, produced of a short period of time in 1955, Laubscher’s full mastery of colour, form and monumentality manifests itself. This led Laubscher to embrace abstraction wholeheartedly and between 1956 and 1959, his work was completely non-figurative. He became a vociferous advocate for abstraction and encountered stern resistance from both art institutions and the public, to the detriment of his career. In order to makes ends meet, Laubscher was eventually forced to accept employment as a paint salesman.
This led to the next and most important phase in the artist’s development. His job as a paint salesman required regular travel into the interior of the Cape Province, to small towns and villages, through the picturesque Swartland and Overberg regions. This gave birth to the iconic “patchwork” landscapes, for which he is most renowned. Laubscher’s grasp of the fundamental principles underlying the Modernist Abstraction, his extraordinary skill as a colourist and his distinctive application thereof to the landscape has secured him a unique place in South Africa’s visual history. During the mid-sixties, after a trip to the United States, Laubscher switched to the use of acrylics and his landscapes became more minimalist. This process had run its course by the end of the decade and from the 1970s onwards, his work was characterised by a return to figuration and expressionism in an unflagging quest to capture the soul and essence of the dramatic Cape landscape.
Erik Laubscher has represented South Africa at the São Paulo and Venice Biennales and is included in most major South Africa Public and Corporate art collections. Besides his artistic legacy and numerous achievements, Erik Laubscher is celebrated for his remarkable contribution to art education and specifically for his role as founder and director if the Ruth Prowse Art Centre, where he applied himself for more than a quarter century. During his illustrious career which spans sixty years, Erik Laubscher has left an indelible mark on his students, fellow artist and appreciative public.