Activist and retired Constitutional Court judge Albie Sachs described Tyrone Appollis as an artist of inconvenience during the launch of the latter’s exhibition and documentary.
Mr Sachs, who is a collector of Mr Appollis’s art, made the remark at the Sanlam Art Gallery in Bellville, where the launch took place on Tuesday March 14.
Mr Appollis, who is originally from Bridgetown but now lives in Plumstead, said he could not agree more with that statement. He admitted that he would make his presence known during a somewhat quiet gathering by playing his penny whistle, just like Mr Sachs described.
Although he held his first solo exhibition at the tender age of 14, Mr Appollis was given little formal recognition, and because of this, the Sanlam Art Gallery decided to honour his life and art shortly after his 60th birthday.
The exhibition is a combination of his recent paintings and iconic examples of his earlier works, drawn from his private and public collections.
It runs until Thursday April 13, and the opening was accompanied by the premiere of the documentary Of My Time – Tyrone Appollis, by film-maker Ron Moller of Storyteller Productions.
Mr Moller said the documentary was an intimate portrait of the artist, poet and musician. He was unsure where it would be screened next, but said he might use it as a pilot for a series if he could get broadcasters to invest.
“The film explores the theme of artistic journey, as a reflection of the artist’s personal journey, and is an insight into Tyrone’s creative space filled with personal history, conflict, passion, resilience and personal and artistic successes,” Mr Moller said.
Mr Appollis has also been described as a painter, who, over the past thirty years, created unique images of the times and places that made up his life and environment.
Stefan Hundt, from the Sanlam Art Gallery, said: “There is little doubt that Tyrone is one of the Western Cape’s most talented painters. Yet, he has been given little official or formal recognition. His peculiar vision, formed by his understanding of Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Cecil Skotnes and a plethora of Italian Renaissance painters, has provided unique perspective on life on the Cape Flats for more than 30 years.”
Asked whether he was bitter his work had not in the past been given the recognition it deserved, Mr Appollis said: “I became a celebrity. I am not a whinger of the past. Ek is waar ek wil wees. Of my time.”
People had not understood him in the past, lending him a degree of anonymity, he said.
“I keep telling my friends who want to force me into teaching – after they mocked my beginnings at music, painting and writing – that they should ask Jonathan Butler or Johnny Clegg for lessons. I have taught extramural classes in the community in the past, but, at present, I am engrossed in catching up. I still have a lot of work to do before I will be taken seriously. My message to the people is that I can only say as much, or as little, as I do.”
And his thoughts on the opening of the exhibition?
“Exhibition openings are a hindrance, because there is food and drinks and trimmings. I would rather people come to buy my work, than to come for the trimmings. I must add, however, that this exhibition is wonderful, and I don’t want this feeling to subside.”
Mario Pissarra, of the Africa South Art Initiative, said in order to understand Mr Appollis’s art, one had to grasp his conviction that “an artist must be of his time”.
“His art is rooted in his geographic identity as a Capetonian, in his historic identity as a ‘coloured’ person, in his post-apartheid national identity as a South African, in his non-racial identity as an African, and in his humanistic identity as a member of the global community of artists. All of these identities co-exist in him as a person, and inform his art,” Mr Pissarra said.
Mr Appollis was trained and worked as a sign writer, and later as a carpenter, but never completed the apprenticeship.
He studied part-time at the Community Arts Project under artist Cecil Skotnes, and attended the Foundation School of Art for one year. He held his first solo exhibition at the age of 14, under the auspices of the Students’ Health And Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) and the Cape Flats Development Association (CAFDA). His other solo exhibitions include Rocklands library, in 1982; the South African Association of Arts, in 1988; Chelsea Gallery, in Wynberg, in 1992; Karren McKerron Gallery, in Johannesburg, in 1993; Sheraton Atlantis Hotel, Zurich, in 1997; The Framery Gallery, in Cape Town, in 2010; and Irma Stern Museum, last year. He also participated in many group exhibitions in South Africa and abroad.
His current exhibition is on view at the Sanlam Art Gallery until Thursday April 13, Monday to Friday, from 9am to 4.30pm.