Individualism: The Art of Hargreaves Ntukwana

Smart people take the road often travelled: Trailblazers stake the road less travelled.

Hargreaves Ntukwana chose to study fine art and music instead of medicine as his father hoped. He became a musician. He decided the fast life wasn’t for him, after sometime, so he sold his instruments and picked up the paint brush. He gained recognition for designing the album cover for the Dollar Brand Underground in Africa. But, still, there was something missing. He incorporated pastel, charcoal, ink and pen drawings into his oil painting, creating an odd mixed media painting type. Finally, he felt that feeling of emotional rightness. Hargreaves Ntukwana had found his identity.

I became interested in this South African artist out of curiosity. The uniqueness of the style drew my attention and I wanted to know about the artist and his medium. But, most especially, I sought to know this person who is confident enough to seem disagreeable and show this quirkiness to the world.

Mother and Child, Hargreaves Ntukwana (1938 – 1998), mixed media, 22″ by 40″

Man, as we know, is a social animal. The expression of individualism can be an imprudent and risky venture—in this case, as associated with artistic and nonconformist interests and the tendency towards self-creation and experimentation as opposed to tradition or popular opinions and standards. Ntukwana had studied at the Pollo Street School of Art in Zimbabwe and at the Artists’ colony in Toledo, Spain under Costa Lidas; he had received private training in New York from Mel Edwards—best known for his Lynch Fragment series, and had travelled extensively abroad. He had no shortage of appealing techniques to choose from. Any of the artistic styles and mediums he was exposed to during his studies and travels would have been more lucrative and might have meant immediate recognition.

But this artist chose to revel in his individuality. He perfected a style of mixed media painting (a painting in which more than one medium has been employed) where his technique was to blow diluted oils on to canvas or paper, wipe away the excess with cloth or cotton swabs, leaving a soft background, and in black ink, draw figures out of overlapping and conjoined round shapes—sometimes he traced or shaded with charcoal, pencils or pastels. The result is an unusual but rhythmic style that takes getting used to. But so did the art of Paul Klee which was seen as too folkloristic with a propensity for mysticism in the 1940s; and also Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades that was denounced because it questioned the assumptions of what art should be and how it should be made; yet Duchamp significantly influenced the development of Conceptual art.

Ntukwana had his first one man exhibition at the Adler Fielding Gallery in Johannesburg. Subsequently, he had exhibitions in several cities including Zimbabwe, London, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt, Denhaag, Bonn, Atlanta, Denmark, Zurich, San Diego and Boston. His works form part of numerous collections including that of the Rutgers State University, New Jersey, University of California, and South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Hawker, Hargreaves Ntukwana (1938 – 1998), mixed media, 17″ by 24″

Like Ben Enwonwu, a few years before him, Hargreaves Ntukwana had the courage to take the road less travelled. His belief, he explained, is that, “God gives you talent which you in turn make use of and then other people are there to appreciate your God given talent.” Ntukwana’s talent is definitely appreciated and draws comments from all. Even when the comment is, as reported by Robin Wright of a Jordanian cabinet minister who saw one of Ntukwana’s paintings when he visited her home, “Oh, how lovely. You have a picture of E.T.”  

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Adekemi is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the arts, particularly African art history. She is dedicated to discovering and documenting the most excellent artworks of our time. Follow her on Twitter at adekemitweets.

2 Comments

  1. Artstrings Africa
    5th November 2017

    Thanks Teeay. I know what you mean. Luckily, we’ll always have his art with us.

  2. Teeay
    4th November 2017

    I am strangely saddened to read of the artist’s passing mere seconds after I first ever heard of him and decided that I like his style of painting. There’s something amusing about them…I can almost picture him grinning as he paints. Thank you for sharing his art.

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