Eric Lubisi

 

Eric Lubisi was born October 11, 1946 at the Highlands squatters’ camp in the east of Pretoria. Lubusi was the youngest in a family of six, and the only son. Lubusi’s parents were very protective and strict and the Lubisi clan were not allowed to play with other children. Being the only boy, he was often excluded from his sisters’ games and so he grew up lonely and needing to occupy his time.

Lubisi found drawing with locally available charcoal in old scrapbooks fed his imagination. In the absence of charcoal, Lubisi often reached for a stick to draw certain images on the ground, he even used his fingersi or ash from the coal stove to express himself. Primary school gave him a bit more freedom to watch football matches with his friends.

In 1958 the Lubisi family moved to Mamelodi East, one of the townships near Pretoria, where he joined a youth club. Together with other talented members, he took part in art activities. Lubusi began to think about forming an art group that could produce and exhibit work together. Alex Selepe, his teacher at Memelodi High, encouraged him to pursue the idea and to take art classes at the school.

Lubisi completed his matric in 1965, intending to pursue a career in art. His parents, however, thought it wise to advise their son to at least acquire a formal qualification, as to them art was merely a hobby. Lubisi went to Amanzimtoti Teachers Traning College in Natal to receive training as a teacher. After six months, however, he left due to financial difficulties, in addition the college did not offer art courses which was unacceptable to Lubisi.

Lubisi went back to Pretoria where once again his parents intervened and he went to work photographic assistant in one of the studios in town. Fortuitously, his employer, Peter Carr, was at that time commissioned to photograph works by some of South Africa’s best artists. This gave Lubisi an opportunity to study works in private collections.

Lubisi invested most of his salary in art, purchasing art materials with his money. He is quoted as saying, “I really became interested in art while working for a commercial photographer. I bought art materials and started working hard. I used to sell one picture for 60c”.

In 1968, Lubisi decided to launch himself as an artist, something he had always wanted to do. He soon met Professor Walter Battiss who played the valuable role of critic for Lubisi’s artwork. Battiss also connected Lubisi with the relevant people in the art world. Lubisi was now familiar with the works of Andrew Motjuoadi and Louis Maqhubela, both of whom were from the old school of artists, and who were of great influence on his work.

Soon Lubisi was married and with that came the responsibilities of being a family man and the usual financial pressures. He found employment as a cashier in various banks in the city of Pretoria but continued to work as an artist and where possible exhibit his work. In 1975 some of his paintings were exhibited in Europe and in the United States. In 1976 Lubisi and Roy Ndumiso, a fellow artist, set up a Studio Des Independents in Pretoria’s city centre. The studio was a great success and many artists worked there, including Laurence Ngwenya, Mike Mukalare, Miles Pelo and Cheryl Petlele. Efforts were also made to secure as many sponsors as possible from different institutions and sympathetic individuals.

The group held its first exhibition at Dr. Joachim Braun’s house in February 1977. Braun was a patron and a collector of the works of black artists. Later the group exhibited in one of the shopping malls in Pretoria.

The group’s success came to an abrupt end when their treasurer of the studio disappeared, taking with him the hard earned money of the artists. Lubisi and his fellow artists had no choice but to close the studio. Despite this disappointment, Lubisi continued to work as an artist an in 1978 rented space where he produced works in oils, graphics and woodpanels.

Ultimately, due to financial constraints, Lubisi was forced to leave his rented workshop and worked from home under less than suitable conditions. Lubisi’s determination kept him going as he loved art and invested much in it. In 1983 he founded and directed the Independent Visual Arts Council in Doornfontein, Johannesburg.

Lubisi’s work is a reflection of the township situation, suffering, misery and pain.. His works include: Winterveld (oil on canvas, (Series, 1970-1979), Dou’vo la khombo, 1977, (oil on canvas), Hanyisani Mangwa, 1977, (oil on canvas), Sacrifice to the Gods, 1977, (oil on canvas), Women’s Liberation, 1979, (oil on canvas), Imisebenzi, 1979, (oil on canvas), Music, Love and Harmony

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