The Early Pioneer Artists of South Africa

Gladys Mgudlandlu ( 1925 - 1979 )

13 April 2001  by Andries Loots
Gladys was born in 1925 in the district of Peddie in the Eastern Cape. She went to school in Port Elizabeth and in 1940 obtained her Teachers Diploma at the Lovedale College near Alice. She wrote her own stories and folktales  which she also illustrated.  In 1944 she moved to the Cape Town township of Gugulethu. Gladys was one of the first black woman artists to exhibit her work in public.

Gladys was mostly a self-taught artist with a natural talent and always took pride in what others had to say about her art. Fellow artists Majorie Wallace,  Gregoire Boonzaier and Katherine Harries all contributed in guiding Gladys in various small but vital technical aspects. She had a natural talent for uninhibited use of colour and unusual perspective ( high focal point ), a spontaneous simplicity of  technique and style.  In 1960 she exhibited her paintings in Cape Town and became a celebrity overnight. Despite various misfortunes in her life the inner need to full-fill her creativity always drove her back to her art and it was not for public recognition,  but  purely working for her own enjoyment.

She enjoyed painting at night by the light of a paraffin lamp at her kitchen table. Cape Town artist, Peter Clarke,  recalls this as he visited the artist on occasion and saw the lamp standing on a pile of finished paintings. 

Many of her early works were done in pen, charcoal and ink and subsequently in gouache and watercolours. She then progressed to working in oil on glazed canvasses.

Her style  is  naive  and nearly childlike in the way she depicts scenes from her daily surroundings. Her work sometimes incorporate the folktales told to her by her grandmother. Traditional scenes of women collecting and carrying firewood are typical themes. Whatever she painted was always spontaneous and from the heart.

Gladys was once described as  "The Black Irma Stern of South Africa "   by fellow artist and mentor Gregoire Boonzaier 

Gladys at the opening of one of her many exhibitions.
Fetching Wood 

Exhibitions :
1961 -   Fist Solo-Exhibition,  Cape Town
1962 -   Solo-Exhibition,  Cape Town
1962 -   Solo-Exhibition,  Port Elizabeth
1963 -   Solo-Exhibition,  Cape Town
1963 -   Art South Africa Today Exhibition,  Durban
1963 -   Exhibition in the USA.
1979 -   Contemporary African Art in South Africa Exhibition,  Touring South Africa,  University of Fort Hare
1979 -   Neglected Tradition Exhibition,  Johannesburg Art Gallery

King George VI Gallery, Port Elizabeth ,   Johannesburg Art Gallery,  South African National Gallery, Caper Town,  University of Fort Hare and many private collections in South Africa and abroad.

Images of Man,  Contemporary South African Black Art and Artists,  Fort Hare University Press,  E.J. De Jager,  ISBN. 1-86810-015-4

Land and Lives,  The story of early black artists, Human & Rossouw,  Elza Miles,  ISBN 0798136588

Progress Pointers BANTU,  September 1974,  Vol. XXI No. 9

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