Ephraim Ngatane: Weight of the fatherhood
Ephraim Ngatane (1938 – 1971)
Weight of the fatherhood - 1966
Oil on board
75 x 105 cm
Signed and dated bottom right
Ephraim Ngatane’s artistic inspiration came from his daily experience of urban black township life on the Witwatersrand during the 1950s and 60s. His paintings are, today, regarded as important documents of social realism, authentically depicting township life during this period.
At the Mooki Memorial College in Orlando, Ngatane’s artistic talent was recognised by his primary school teacher Mrs E.L. Mooki, who convinced his parents to allow him to pursue an artistic career. The loose, free-flowing watercolour technique taught by Cecil Skotnes at the Polly Street Art Centre appealed to Ngatane during his studies there between 1952 and 1954. He developed an individual approach which stylistically differed from the prevailing tradition of township expressionism and distinguished his work from the descriptive styles of most other township artists.
Ngatane documented township life in all its forms; from the overcrowded living conditions to the social entertainment events like parties and weddings, sports, and memorable occasions like when it snowed in Johannesburg during the 1960s. As an accomplished jazz alto-saxophonist, he also painted lively music and dance scenes, in which his individual abstract style successfully captured the energy and movement.
Although Ngatane experimented with different techniques, he only started working predominantly in oils by the mid 1960s. Many of his later oil paintings were composed in a much more abstract style, where his subject matter became fragmented, often to the point where it disintegrated purely into compositions of form and colour, creating its own rhythmic balance. Ngatane’s painterly sense of abstraction and his ability to apply it to his preferred subject matter in watercolour as well as oils, definitely confirms his status as one of the great South African abstract painters.
Elza Miles, Polly Street: The Story of an Art Centre , Johannesburg, 2004, p 42 and 94 -97
Ivor Powell and Hayden Proud (Eds), Revisions: Expanding the narrative of South African art , Cape Town, 2006, p 154
Johans Borman and Warren Siebrits, Aspects of South African Art 1903 – 1999 , Johannesburg, 2001, ref. no’s. 21 and 22