Titus Matiyane: Too extraordinary an artist
10/17/2008 09:40:34

The 44-year old Matiyane, or Handjievol as nicknamed by his late mother, is fresh from a successful world tour of his works entitled Cities of the World, which certainly raised his profile

Approaching an unattended 4-roomed apartheid-era matchbox house in Phupu Street, Atteridgeville – in a section supposedly built on eroded necropolis, yours truly never in his wildest dreams expected to be so blown away.

They were lots of things that could potentially do that, least of which were how fourteen massive speakers connected to a home theatre system and jam-packed into a small living room could possibly offer a relaxed living and working environment.

Or striking contrast between one gallery in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria, heavily guarded by a trained German shepherd dog and this fenceless and welcoming township home on the opposite end of the city.

My subject was Atteridgeville contemporary artist Titus Matiyane, who is headlining a group exhibition on panoramas, digital works (Diek Grobler) and paintings (Pieter Swanepoel) entitled On the Globe, now on at the capital’s Fried Contemporary Art Gallery and Studio until October 25.

The 44-year old Matiyane, or Handjievol as nicknamed by his late mother, is fresh from a successful world tour of his works entitled Cities of the World, which certainly raised his profile.

His itinerary started in Delft, Netherlands had stops in Berlin, Germany and the National Museum of Mali in Bamako. The next phase of this travelling exhibition will resume at the Apartheid Museum next year, before going to Casablanca, Morocco and other cities of the world.

He plays video of his overseas travels, which he documents himself, as I casually interview him over bottled cool drink and later a meal prepared by his daughter, one of his five children.

Matiyane, the self-taught artist and today renowned the world over but South Africa has been creating drawings of cities and landscapes since the late 1980s. Perhaps inspired, but not limited by an architectural course he enrolled for at the University of South Africa at the time.

“Matiyane has never picked up the mannerisms of institutional art and training, nor has he understood its mechanisms of approval.” These words belong to Gavin Younge of University of Cape Town, one of the first institutions to recognise Matiyane’s talent back in 1985.

Matiyane’s foray in the arts started with sculpting of “folk toys”, such as tin and wire vehicles, while in primary school. He then momentarily changed focus to paintings before finding a niche for himself in panoramas.

But not before his breakthrough came, ironically, with a 2-meter model of a British Airways Concorde which toured Germany in 1985. An aircraft albeit now drawn, has since been a trademark of his panoramas for over 20 years now.

“Look, after completing this work, I will pencil in an aeroplane. I just love aeroplanes,” he said with amour-propre, as he showed me the work in progress of Dubai, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

“And mind you,” he tells me. “I have never been in an aeroplane until a decade ago.”

The down to earth Matiyane, who still works odd shifts at Consol glass factory says this art genre now make him more money than the other two art forms could possible have or what he gets manufacturing glass.

According to Matiyane, he mainly uses his imagination to draw aerial realism of cities most of which he’d never seen or been to, and to a lesser extent now supplement with maps.

His most valuable work to date, a detailed 46-metre long panoramic view from Polokwane to Sasolburg, which took him 3 years to complete, will be displayed at the OR Tambo International Airport very soon.

In South Africa however, he is disappointed although not bitter by lack of support the arts is getting from government; especially the Department of Arts and Culture and the City of Tshwane.

And the private sector’s helping hand, he says, is tantamount to a rip-off for an artist of his repute. His Panorama of Johannesburg for example, a permanent piece at 224 Market Street in Johannesburg CBD, brings him a mere R10 000 per annum in royalties from Cell C.

But with the attention his Cities of the World exhibitions and accompanying book Titus Matiyane: Cities of the World are getting, especially with the South African leg imminent, the National Arts Council has been too embarrassed not to jump on the bandwagon, pledging to produce and fund Cities of South Africa project.

He is also the object of a brewing tug-of-war between his international agents and main sponsor, the Netherlands Architecture Institute and his South African agent Elfriede Dreyer representing Fried Art Gallery for exclusive mandate.

“People the world over are hugely enthralled by my shows. I am excited with the attention and interest my work is getting internationally,” said the now in demand artist.

The multitalented Matiyane’s other evident talents include producing various oral sounds simultaneously, sort of a one man orchestra. And he can also tell past, present and future details of anyone’s life by simply having their first name.

This special talent, in particular, is inextricably entwined into his panoramas.

As I was rounding-up the day-long interview (initially planned for just one hour) in Phupu St, enter missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint.

Notwithstanding visiting Matiyane’s youngest son every week for the past three months, the elders were oblivious of the talents and stature of the head of the Matiyane household.

The oblivion, which according the artist, is shared by his immediate community.

And with the public consultation process for renaming of Tshwane streets underway, yours truly openly propose Titus Matiyane for any street near cultural institutions.

I hope Tshwane Metropolis get it right this time, before this son of the soil is honoured in far far away places that we only go to with flying vehicles. Or should we, like with all artists, first wait till his death?

• On the Globe, an exhibition which features Titus Matiyane’s panoramas, is on at the Fried Contemporary Art Gallery and Studio at 430 Charles Street in Brooklyn, Pretoria until October 25. For more information call 012 346 0158.

Picture: Yes
Submitted by Makgwathane Mothapo

PR Company: Freelance Journalist: Arts and Entertainment wants your voice to be heard! is inviting everyone and anyone who has something to say about the arts, to say it on South Africa`s biggest and most comprehensive arts, culture and entertainment website.

For guidelines and to make submissions go to