In a climate of the highly prescriptive and the volatile, an occasional emergence of abstract art comes as a relief. It can be an antidote to, and refuge from, the minefield of what can be said by whom, when and how. Although difficult conversations should not be suppressed, some balance should be found between extreme polarities. Discoveries made in the Blombos Cave near Mossel Bay by archaeologist Dr Christopher Henshilwood show that abstract art was being made in SA 73,000 years ago. An ochre fragment engraved with cross-hatched patterns made by Homo sapiens was found in the cave.

Although Nel Erasmus has been an abstract painter for almost 70 years, she didn’t start out as one. She left SA as a 26-year-old postgraduate student from Wits University and went to Paris and the Académie Ranson in the early 1950s. Later she entered the Sorbonne’s Ecole des Beaux Arts. She returned to SA and was the director of the Johannesburg Art Gallery from 1964 until her retirement in 1977. ...

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