ART S/Peak of the WEEK 5

ART S/Peak of the WEEK 5

Cecil Skotnes - The Assasination Of Shaka

08/12/2021     Timed-Online Auctions, Weekly with Percy


There are many printmaking gems among the works on offer in our current Timed-Online Auction of Modern & Contemporary Art and Books. Possibly, none are as compelling and timely as the collection of woodcut prints by Cecil Skotnes from The Assassination Of Shaka portfolio. I am choosing them for my Art S/Peak this week.

The three woodcuts are part of a limited edition of 225 sets numbered 1 to 225 plus 25 artist proofs numbered I to XXV. Each print is numbered and signed by the artist and each set is signed on the title page by Skotnes himself and his literary collaborator, poet and critic Stephen Gray. The writer contributes a set of evocative captions that included 43 original woodcuts in the series. Each one of the three works on offer is accompanied and framed alongside its poem.

I am enthralled by the works and their subject in part because of their topicality in our national news agenda. The current unfolding contest for the throne in the Zulu royal house brings the historical tensions which led to the assassination of King Shaka ka Senzangakhona Zulu years ago into sharp focus.

The narrative of royal intrigue and plotting that rocked that royal house during its nascent years, is captured and told in unparalleled poetics by Gray. The lyricism with which he tells the story perfectly matches Skotnes’s iconic images. His unique graphic language finds him at the hight of his powers in this body of work.  

The success of their partnership on this project saw them explore other lofty possibilities. Two years after this project in 1975, Skotnes and Gray formed the Quagga Press. The idea was to highlight, or recapture neglected but pertinent aspects of our tradition.

In 1978 they worked with Heinemann on the first reprint of Sol T Plaatje’s novel Mhudi with lavish illustrative woodcuts by Skotnes. It was the second reprint of a monumental piece of literature. Mhudi was the first novel in English by a writer of African descent. It was originally published by Lovedale Press in 1930.

Skotnes and Gray continued to collaborate on other great work that mixed great stories with amazing feats of printmaking. However, the King Shaka ka Senzangakhona Zulu series remains their greatest and foundational project together.

I am curious to see how this set does by the time the lots begin closing on 13 December 2021 from 6 pm. Happy bidding and happy holidays.