The Early Pioneer Artists of South Africa

John Koenakeefe Mohl ( 1903 - 1985 ) 

18 February 2001  by Andries Loots
John Koenakeefe Mohl was born in 1903 in the Western Transvaal.

At an early age he studied painting at the Windhoek School of Art, Namibia. He stayed in West Germany for five years where he studied art at the Kunst-Akademie. When he returned to South Africa he settled in Sophiatown, started art classes in his home and became one of the first Black artists to be involved in art education and training.

He lived in Sophiatown and Soweto for most of his life. Being a withdrawn person, he steered away from Commercial Galleries and publicity but exhibited regularly with other artists at the, 'Artists under the sun exhibitions' which was held at Joubert Park, Johannesburg. He exhibited and sold his work, mainly landscapes,  from his small studio in Moroka Township in Soweto. Due to this lack of exposure, Mohl's work remained largely ' undiscovered ' during his life time.

 He had a strong desire to paint what was known to him and scenes from the township where he stayed was a common theme in his work. He preferred to work in oil depicting panoramic vistas  with an emphasis on atmospheric qualities. Mohl  sometimes worked in an impressionistic style capturing various moods of the township landscape - early morning, rainy scenes, the shadows of approaching night and early dusk were his favorite scenes. To enhance the mood of the work he often worked in monochromatic hues. His fine, gentle and sensitive brushwork can be traced back to his extensive art training  locally and abroad. He was a fine colourist with a mature style which stood out amongst his peers.

Exhibitions :

1936 - Empire Exhibition in Johannesburg
1941 - Solo-Exhibition in Bloemfontein
1942 - Bloemfontein
1943 - Fist Solo-Exhibition,  Transvaal Art Society
1948 - Herbert Evans Gallery, Johannesburg
1943 - Trunsvaal Art Society
1943 - Won an award at the South African Academy of Art
1963 - Appolo Art Gallery
1964 - Appolo Art Gallery
1965 - African Painters and Sculptors from Johannesburg Exhibition, Piccadilly Gallery in London.
1988 - Neglected Tradition Exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery
1988 - Included in the prestigious publication 150 South African Paintings. Past and Present (Alexander & Cohen 1190:85).

Mohl died in 1985 in Johannesburg.

His works are taken up in various collections:   Doreen Khama Collection, Johannesburg Art Gallery,  Pretoria Art Gallery, and private collections in Germany.

'Magaliesberg Mid-Winter',
Oil on Plywood,  62,5 x 86,8cm
( Johannesburg Art Gallery )
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 Mils,  ISBN 0798136588

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