Provenance: Mr Isaac Kriel
Exhibited: Important South African Paintings by Artists from 1867 Onwards. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg, 20 August – 20 September 2004
Illustrated: Graham’s Fine Art Gallery. 2004. Important South African Paintings by Artists from 1867 Onwards. Catalogue No. 1. Graham’s Fine Art Gallery, Johannesburg.
Jeppe, H. 1963. South African Artists 1900 – 1962. Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel, Johannesburg. P 47
The cliché of the suffering artist only recognised and his work only recognised after his death is the tragic truth of Wolf Kibel’s story. During the course of his short life he endured privations that permanently weakened his health. From grinding poverty in Poland; as well as homelessness, hunger & illness in Vienna and Palestine; he arrived in South Africa in 1929.
He received his art training in Vienna and absorbed the European influences of such artists as Soutine and Chagall. He was intellectually nourished by fellow artists’ in Palestine, but remained aloof, never slavishly adhering to any one school of thought or style. Kibel, single-mindedly; pursued a path in search of a personal artistic vision. In “Boy in a Red Hat” the artist conveys the innocence of the child yet in the eyes he captures sagacity beyond the subject’s years. The distortion of the subject emphasises the eyes, from which a quiet intensity flows. The use of colour is rich and glowing but the palette skilfully controlled. The repeated use of a limited selection of colour in the foreground and background gives the piece the unity and harmony that the artist continually sought in theme and subject.
In the 1930s the South African press and public’s exposure to art was limited to traditional representation. It is therefore unsurprising that the reaction to Kibel’s work was abusive. However he did have the loyal support of his wife and friends who aided and encouraged him. Kibel was never to escape poverty and uncertainty and it would be glib to assume that his work provided immunity from hardship, however art drove and sustained him. No trace of self-pity or anger taints his work, a testament to the strength of character of a man who endured so much.