Julian Motau

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Alexandra, Johannesburg

Julian Motau was born in 1948 in Tzaneen. He was born to a sixty year old father with five wives and many children. He was completely self-taught except for a few months of study under Judith Mason (Mason-Attwood). In 1963, brimming with talent and burning with the anger that was to find expressionist articulation in his work, the young Motau arrived in Johannesburg, where his special qualities were recognised by the artist Judith Mason, who gave him a space to work and some informal instruction, as well as introducing him to the gallerist, Linda Goodman (Givon), who gave him his first one-person show in 1967. Also in 1967, he won first prize on the New Signatures Exhibition in Pretoria, and it seemed that Motau had arrived. But one year later he died at the age of 20 in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg. Strongly influenced by the uncompromising expressionism of Dumile Feni, Motau’s own artwork is remarkable for its intensity of expression and the anger which comes through in its choice of subject matter as much as the Dumile-esque rendering of theme. Motau has been hailed as marking a new politicisation of township art, but while there is some truth to this, the work remains too unruly and too unformed to constitute much more than an interesting beginning, tragically curtailed. He was killed in February 1968 in Alexandra, Johannesburg.

• Sack, S. (1988). The Neglected Tradition, Johannesburg: Johannesburg Art Gallery.

Last updated : 17-Feb-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 17-Feb-2011