NEW YORK, NY -- The grand scale of Cecil Skotnes’ work evokes the enormity of the African landscape itself, and the angst reflects the tragedy and turmoil he witnessed first-hand in South Africa. A London-born son of a missionary family, Skotnes (1926-2009) grew to become an indispensable teacher and mentor who looked to democratize the South African art world in the face of Apartheid. Against the wishes of the state government, Skotnes opened the first professional art school in South Africa in 1954.
Deeply influenced by Henry Moore, as well as Picasso’s Cubist period, Skotnes balanced the importance of the Western fine art he loved with his lifelong role as an outspoken voice in the South African community. “As chronicler of the South African situation,” Skotnes attested, “I could not think in European terms. My approach had to originate here, otherwise my art would be a lie of little importance.”
Beginning the incised paintings for which he is best known in 1956, Skotnes was given pieces of parquet flooring with which to experiment. He achieved transformative techniques, using the woodblock less as a printmaking device than as the work of art itself. Skotnes’ incised wood panels, with pigments applied directly to its surface, spoke to the traditions of indigenous wooden mask-making and carving in tribal African craft. The artist’s materials and use of scale also lent themselves to the creation of murals.
Landscapes and figural references to African life and culture were Skotnes’ primary focus. He deftly balanced Christian iconography with traditional African figures and flora. These heavily-incised panels embrace abstraction while referencing Skotnes’ deep passion for religious art and his undying devotion to the South Africa he loved.
The auction of Important Paintings on May 20, 2020 offer two works by Cecil Skotnes. View Lots