Frederik Bester Howard (Erik) Laubscher

(1927 – 2013)

Born in Tulbagh in the Western Cape, Erik Laubscher aspired to a life as an artist from a young age. However, these ambitions were hindered by several financial constraints in his early life, but ultimately his creative fervor and driving passion for art has led Laubscher to become one of South Africa’s leading artists and most admired art teachers.

Beginning his formal studies at the Continental School of Art in Cape Town under Maurice van Essche, Laubscher was also able to travel to Europe in 1948 to further his studies at the Anglo-French Art Centre in London under John Milton and Claude Vernard. This was followed by a year at the Académie Montmartre in Paris under Fernand Léger between 1950 and 1951.

On Laubscher’s return to South Africa he married Claude Bouscharain and soon had two children. He quickly found himself with the responsibility of a family to provide for, although he was able to find a teaching post alongside artist Alfred Krenz in Stellenbosch and soon after became the Head of the Continental School of Art, changing its name to the Contemporary School of Art. Finding a forum in which to spread the contemporary and modernist ideals and techniques which were being practiced in Europe, these new conventions instantly separated Laubscher from the established style of Impressionism that was followed in South Africa.

His fresh and avant-guard approaches to painting were influenced strongly by Léger and his European contemporaries. Laubscher focused on the contrasting qualities of vibrant colours and dynamic compositions which he taught to the students in his school. Although due to financial shortfalls, the school was forced to close.

Laubscher found other employment as a traveling salesman for a wall-paint company, which greatly hampered the time he had to devote to art-making. In terms of compensation, however, it allowed Laubscher to develop a more discerning view of the South African landscape. Aspects of the local countryside were introduced into his works, allowing his compositional style to evolve. In the early 1960s Laubscher’s distinctive and engaging compositions comprised of the simplified, abstract shapes which he extracted from the surrounding natural terrain. He was still at this time producing several significant still lifes works, but his main focus was on landscapes.

In 1966 Laubscher was awarded a grant which enabled him to study in America for a few months. At this time the Cape Town art world was undergoing a significant transition and different forms of artistic experimentation were more readily accepted. Despite these new receptions, Laubscher still wished to be exposed to the different developments in international movements. He returned to South Africa with two distinctive new ideals. Stylistically he implemented a harder edge to the outlines in his works which was influenced by his latest inferences abroad.

He also returned with a renewed and accented view of the South African approach to art, convinced that South African artists must look internally for inspiration and develop independently from foreign art influences. This in turn would create a distinctive and inimitable South African style, especially in relation to the portrayal of the landscape itself, which he felt was a unique feature that should be rigorously explored.

By 1970 Laubscher’s time to devote to his art-making was pressed due to his commitments as a teacher and spokesperson, gallery administrator and organizer. His presence in the South African art world was prominently recognised. However, this was a watershed for Laubscher, as he finally dedicated himself entirely to art. The following years saw another change in his painting style which became more gestural and showed thicker impasto paint applications, which moved closer to the figurative and further away from abstraction.

Laubscher’s artistic involvement publically continued and in 1980 he founded and chaired the Artists’ Guild in Cape Town. In 1981 Laubscher became the only artist appointed as a member of the Presidential Commission of Enquiry into the Creative Arts. Laubscher’s influence from his international exposure coupled with his engaging with South African topography has made Laubscher one of the most important South African artists.

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