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KEVIN ATKINSON

KEVIN ATKINSON - ART AND LIFE

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EXHIBITION TEXT

Solo Exhibition

20.05.23

Cape Town

KEVIN ATKINSON: ART AND LIFE

THE EXHIBITION


Kevin Atkinson (1939-2007) was a powerful and inspirational force in South African art, both as a controversial artistic personality and academic. Although better known as a painter and printmaker, he experimented with sculpture, installation, land, and performance art. He embraced a vast range of approaches to painting, moving from geometric abstractions in the 1960s, through the severe yet sensuous contrasts between geometric and organic form in the 1970s, to the forcefully expressionistic gestural works of the 1980s. A witty and incisive voice, Atkinson tried to address complex issues, ranging from the attitudes of American and European expressionist movements to writings on language, semiotics, phenomenology, and philosophy. He translated psychic energies into the visual language of a painted or drawn surface and remained an abstractionist and intermittent conceptualist till the end.


The exhibition, Kevin Atkinson: Art and Life takes its title from the magnificent book of the same name, edited by Marilyn Martin and published in 2022. And, like the book, it situates Kevin in relation to the important figures in his life namely his family and his students and

celebrates his legacy. Unlike previous posthumous exhibitions that aimed to show the full trajectory of his prolific and multi-faceted output, this exhibition brings into view a smaller selection deemed by curators Jo-Anne Duggan and Joe Dolby to represent the best Atkinsons painting and drawings. The exhibition also brings into view the work of his late artist-educator wife, Patricia Pierce-Atkinson, not seen, to this extent, in the public domain since 1993; the work of a small group of former students who reunited in 2018; and works produced by participants in the Canvas Collaboration, a legacy project initiated by the Kevin and Patricia Atkinson Trust.


Kevin Atkinson was one of the most energetic and ambitious of the younger generation of South African artists who emerged in the early 1960s. Born in Cape Town in 1939, Atkinson’s entire career, apart from short sojourns abroad, was based in Cape Town. Awarded a Sir Abe Bailey scholarship, he studied at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town, where he obtained his BA Fine Art degree in 1963. Atkinson embraced the plurality of forms and concepts that emerged in international contemporary art after 1945. Abstract Expressionism, Hard Edge painting, Op Art, Land art, Conceptual art and Performance art were all grist to his mill, but abstraction, painting and experimentation with new materials always remained his interests.

In 1966 Kevin Atkinson won the Gold Medal on the national SA Breweries Art Competition for his abstract painting Aqua-A-Blast. His installations of yellow triangles in Durban and Edinburgh (1972), and his I am a Verb performance of 1973 at Cape Town’s avant-garde Space Gallery, made him a cause célèbre. Promoting debate about the very defi