Ephraim Ngatane was born in Maseru, Lesotho in 1938. As a child of 7 he moved to Soweto to attend school. He must have shown great artistic talent early on, because from the age of about 14, he was sent to learn from a series of excellent art teachers. The first was Cecil Skotnes, who taught him for two years from 1952 at the famous Polly Street Art Centre. Durant Sihlali then taught him for another two years, followed by Reverend Duncan Hall at St Peter’s
Like George Pemba, Ephraim Ngatane later became an art teacher. He had other talents too: he is said to have been a good boxer in his youth, and he played several instruments, including the saxophone and penny whistle.
Ngatane experimented with all kinds of painting and drawing media: oil paint, gouache, ink, charcoal. He worked in subtle colours. His paintings usually captured the bustle and energy of township life, though some were portraits and figure studies. Sometimes his imagery was highly realistic, and at other times it came closer to a kind of expressive abstraction. He would sometimes use expressive brush marks, but they were always sensitive and observant. Note the change of texture and brushstroke, for example, from the jacket collar and sleeve, to the jersey, to the face.
He had many solo exhibitions, exhibiting very successfully in Cape town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. But he died at the very early age of 33, sadly cutting short a career of great promise.
Talk About This
How do you think this young boy is feeling? What makes you think this? Look at the way he is sitting: take up his exact posture with your own body. How does it feel to you?
Look at the format of this work. It is vertical, and narrow. Does this in itself affect the feeling of the picture, in any way? The boy does not fit comfortably into the picture format. Does this “squeezing” of the composition contribute to the mood this portrait evokes? In what way?
Now look at the brushstrokes, the paint itself. Do these brushstrokes vary throughout the work? How? Notice the thick brushstrokes, and the thick “scumbling” of paint. Why do you think the artist uses paint in this way?