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Alice Elahi - Cape landscape artist returns to her roots

12 December to 23 January 2016

Alice Elahi, the renowned South African landscape artist, was born nearly ninety years ago in Cape Town, and even though she has spent most of her working life in Pretoria, she has never broken her ties with the Mother City. This holiday season the UCT's Irma Stern Museum celebrates the artist's lifelong passion for the city, the Cape and the sea in an exhibition of her work entitled Alice Elahi - a Capetonian at Heart, which runs from 12 December to 23 January 2016.

At the beginning of this year the Pretoria Art Museum, of which she was a long-term member, honoured her with a three-month long retrospective. The University of Pretoria also held a retrospective of her work in 1988, and plan to acquire her archive, which contains many of the images of Namibian wilderness areas that have been one of the major subjects in her oeuvre.

Growing up in the leafy suburb of Bishopscourt as the daughter of an MP and founder of the Oros soft drinks company, Alice showed her interest in art at an early age, and this show opens with a linocut of the Zebra River near Oudtshoorn she made as a 14-year-old. She was destined to take up the role of chemist in the Oros factory, but her time completing a science degree at UCT was filled more by organising the art society than anything else, and she jumped at the chance to study art in London on finishing her BSc.

Life took a different turn when she married an Iranian water engineer, and although the family returned to South Africa, they settled in Pretoria, where she has lived since 1957. With her parents still in Cape Town, the family would migrate there for the summer holiday and her early subjects were mostly of her children playing on the beach. After a hiatus in her career, Elahi had flung herself back into working mode when she won the 1968 New Signatures Award, and a solo exhibition followed in 1972.

In the early Seventies Elahi discovered the thrill of the boats preparing for the Cape to Rio yacht race and her work of this era is filled with the colour and bustle of sails and masts. At the time, the city docks were a working area which required a permit to enter, and on the quays of what is now the V&A Waterfront Elahi sat night after night painting sunsets and howling South Easter gales, painting a series of inks of the little Penny Ferry and the tugs going out to the tankers, the ropes that tied up the huge ships, and the cranes that dotted the docks. The reflections of boats in the water also fascinated her, and this era reveals not only the city harbour, but also the fishing harbour in Hout Bay and Simonstown's naval dockyard.

Some of these works are on show here, having been in the artist's own collection since they were first exhibited in the Seventies, including a large oil of the view of Table Mountain from one of the Union Castle liners, the Pretoria Castle.

Trained to paint in oil, and using watercolour primarily as a notational medium, Elahi soon became a master in using the immediacy of watercolour to capture the changing light and shade as she painted out of doors and her plein air studies at times have seaspray, raindrops or desert sand embedded in them.

Painting along the Cape coastline led to a series exploring the angular geology of the Cape's mountain passes, and that Red phase was followed by trips to Namibia's dunefields. Elahi's never-ending interest in the constantly changing moods of the sea has found an ongoing subject in the shoreline of this barren wilderness on the Skeleton coast and up the Cape's West Coast.

Art patron Harrie Siertsema, who owns a large collection of Elahi's sepia inks of Cape Town Docks, was determined to bring the artist's work back to her home town, where she last held a show about twenty years ago. Along with Nushin Elahi, one of her daughters, he has curated an exhibition at the Irma Stern Museum that includes a range of works to take the viewer on a journey from the early Cape harbour storms up along the coast to seals playing in the foam at Cape Cross, way up the Skeleton Coast.

Click to enlarge image
Table Mountain from the Boat Deck, Pretoria Castle (undated 1971/72) oil on canvas 75 x 101 cm
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Cross-currents (undated 2011) oil on canvas 55.5 x 81 cm (sig)
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Looking Towards Constantia from the top of Ou Kaapse Weg 1975 oil on canvas 55x 100 cm
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Reflections - Irving and Johnson Basin 1980 oil on canvas 80.5 x 90 cm


Posted: 2015/12/01 (09:05:08 AM)


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