Oil on Canvas
53.4 x 63.5cm
Signed: "Preller" (Lower/Right)
As a result of his South African birth and European art training, the work of Alexis Preller has multiple, international references. Although renowned for his “Grand Mapogga”(1957) series and the influence of Ndebele culture on his subject matter, Preller created works that also displayed his attraction to the Post-Impressionist styles of artists such as Gauguin and Van Gogh. As art historian, Hayden Proud explains, it was the Post-Impressionists’ “use of bright arbitrary colour and their imaginative transformation of nature” that resonated the most with Preller’s “own artistic impulses” (2015: Revisions).
"Wheatfields in the Wind”(1970) is one of Preller’s most notable pieces in this regard, as the medallion-gold and tactile impasto movement of which the artist makes use is immediately reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”(1888). However, the work also evidences the inspiration that Preller drew from local artists, particularly Maggie Laubser and Irma Stern. Much like Stern, Preller communicates inward intensity through radically liberated brushstrokes and an exuberant, expressionist colour palette. Golden spurts of paint drip and protrude from the canvas; evoking the bold freedom of abstract expressionists, yet contained in such a way as to remain figurative, and representative of the “wheatfields” to which the title refers.
While the artist’s own movement is embodied in the rightward force of golden paint, the black background focuses the viewer’s attention on the imaginary wind that blasts the wheatfields across the canvas. Indeed, Preller has translated his interest in local and international painterly techniques into a work that is uniquely evocative of the artist’s own style. In The Story of South African Painting, art historian Esmé Berman sheds light on Preller’s distinctive style:
For complete appreciation of the intricacies of Preller’s style, the viewer needs to be aware of his practice of repetition, adaptation and variation, by means of which his themes and visual devices are nourished and transformed (1975:139, own emphasis).
As further evidence of her appreciation of the artist, and as a tribute to the notable position Preller holds in South African art history, Berman, together with the acclaimed South African artist Karel Nel, published the book Alexis Preller: Africa the Sun and the Shadows. Since then, Preller’s work has grown increasingly in acclaim, attaining higher and higher results on auction. As such, to own a Preller is of great significance — yet to own a piece that is as rare as “Wheatfileds in the Wind”, is even more remarkable.
Bibliography: Proud, Hayden. 2015. Revisions. Alexis Preller. Online. http://www.revisions.co.za/biographies/alexis-preller/#.Vs8TdVzv0UU. Date Accessed: 25 February 2015.
Berman, E.1975. The Story of South African Painting. Johannesburg: A.A Balkema