The following article was written by Deanna Petherbridge, and featured in our catalogue for an exhibition of Cecily Sash's work at the Millinery Works gallery in 2007.
Click Here to see more of the artist's work, and information regarding her other previous exhibitions at the Millinery Works gallery.
Brussels Sprouts, 2006, 85.5 x 65.5.
Sash’s studio teaching at ‘Wits’ University laid great emphasis on drawing – both an important element of her own practice, and always pertinent in South Africa. However, drawing was seen as different from traditional ‘drawing from life’. In Sash’s words, once art had been “removed from reality” it could be submitted to the manipulations of the “language of art: space, colour, line, compositional dynamics.”
Partially based on Paul Klee’s Pedagogic Sketchbook, this formal syntax allowed both abstraction and figuration to be subjected to a rigorous form of analysis, and to be reassembled according to a strictly canonic programme.
Decorative Objects on Striped Cloth 46 x 80cms
Cape Vine I 46 x 80cms
South Africa might have been geographically marginalised during the Cold War period, but it was not as culturally isolated as it was to become under the excesses of apartheid in the next decades. (After 1968, South Africa was excluded from participation in the Venice Biennale, for example, and the academic boycott radically affected universities.) The Fine Art Department of the University of Witwatersrand, under architect and historian Heather Martienssen, the first woman professor at the university, located itself firmly within Corbusier-inspired international modernism, and Sash’s teaching (refreshed by visits ‘abroad’,) established a modernist orthodoxy which held sway at ‘Wits’ art department and other South African art schools for a long time.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Cecily Sash’s work swung between figuration and abstraction, between internationalism and preoccupations with South African themes. A key work of 1955, ‘Platteland’, depicts bare-footed, long-legged country youths in front of dry maize stalks; the thin scraped paint and angular linearity are perceived as part of an African style, but also arise out of Sash’s fascination with the French artist Bernard Buffet. She made numerous bird studies during these years – spikey birds of prey, which have returned again and again as both formal subject matter, and an expressive embodiment of emotional crisis during her artistic career.
Still Lift, 2006
In 1974, Cecily Sash, found the tensions of apartheid in South Africa unbearable, and she gave up her highly successful teaching career, and a buoyant exhibiting and commissions market for relative isolation in the English countryside. Cecily’s mother had been born in Scotland, and although her artistic practice had been formulated in relation to South African landscape and themes and a High Veldt palette, the British experience had always beckoned.
Deanna Petherbridge 1993
Cecily Sash and the South African ambassador at the private view of her 2007 show at the Millinery works.
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