Important South African and International Art

Live Auction, 7 November 2016

Evening Sale

Sold for

ZAR 102 312
Lot 254
  • Jack Heath; Strange City

Lot Estimate
ZAR 100 000 - 150 000
Selling Price
Incl. Buyer's Premium & VAT
ZAR 102 312

About this Item

British/South African 1915-1969
Strange City

signed and dated 1962; signed and inscribed with the title on the reverse

crushed glass and oil on board
121,5 by 244cm excluding frame


Juliette Leeb-du Toit, writing in a catalogue essay accompanying the Jack Heath retrospoective exhibition at the Tatham Gallery in 2009, noted that the artist was part of 'an English modernist diaspora' that arrived in South Africa after World War Two.1 As might then be expected, the artist's early associations and influences included the 'many contemporary British painters working in or around London, such as Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash'.2

Heath was deeply moved by the embrace of abstraction among his British contemporaries, particularly in the aftermath of the war. 'Artists reacted to war in various ways', wrote Leeb-du Toit, 'to some it resulted in increased incorporation of metaphysical content, even recourse to sacred themes, as reflected in the work of Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash and others. Jack Heath's abstraction was clearly influenced by his familiarity with the work of Sutherland, Nash and other English contemporary artists'.3 Heath's enthusiasm for abstraction was attended by an abiding interest in spirituality and mysticism, particularly the relationship between art and spirituality, and 'his interest in the universality of Biblically derived themes also stemmed from his awareness of major projects being undertaken by artists such as Graham Sutherland for post-war religious and secular environments'.4 One example is the Cathedral Church of Saint Michael in Coventry where, opposite a large tapestry by Sutherland is a stained glass baptistery window by John Piper, who introduced abstraction and the modernist tendency to express spirituality in a religious context through ''pure form and … truth to materials'.6

Heath's later abstract work particularly is characterised by the use of saturated colour and various other methods to achieve a certain visionary intensity and spiritual quality. '(He) made several large works in wax medium on board during the period 1966 to 1969,' wrote his daughter, Jinny Heath, that have 'wonderful glow'.'2 Another medium he experimented with to achieve a heightened luminosity was crushed glass, as in the present lot, Strange City. The abstract composition and geometry of the work is reminiscent of some of Piper's pieces, and the colouring and the inclusion of glass also suggests Heath's interest in the medium. Heath’s will to transform painting to pure light in this work evokes a powerful sense of spirituality, but his location of the image in an urban context reflects a secular spirituality, and a preference for expressing spirituality through art, not necessarily through religious institutions.

1 Juliette Leeb-du Toit (2009) Jack Heath: Mediating Modernism in KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg: Tatham Art Gallery.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Jinny Heath. (2015) Jinny Heath: An Artist Family, [Online], Available:

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