In February 2017, 84-year-old Monty Mahobe walked into Artist Proof Studio (APS) with over 40 years’ worth of art that he had created – an astonishing collection of plates ranging from linocuts to wood relief carvings on the back of cupboard doors. APS’s pro-shop printers immediately took this on as a special outreach project.
To ensure that the legacy and history of the Mahobe was not lost, APS sought to find a writer to interview and document the stories behind the images. A series of mid-morning conversations over a period of five weeks took place in the APS gallery between Barbara Adair and Mahobe, giving rise to an insightful and intimate account of the life and times of Mahobe.
Brenton Maart came on board in June 2018 and has since, with great creativity and energy, woven together text, image and photographic documentation to create a book that reaches all ages and genres encapsulating the vitality of the artist himself. The limited edition publication will be launched at the Artist Proof Studio stand at FNB JoburgArtFair ahead of a comprehensive exhibition of prints and carvings in October 2018.
In this limited edition publication, Mahobe weaves us through his life, in a non-linear tale that immediately brings his art to life and endears him to the reader. His artworks are all created mostly from memory – ‘I remember the picture, it’s like a photograph in my head and then I put it on the canvas or the wood,’ he says.
Born in Graaff Reinet in the Eastern Cape, Mahobe grew up in Sophiatown and then later Western Native Township. He attended St Peter’s College (now St Martin’s School) in Rosettenville, a school that had been set up by Father Trevor Huddleston – ‘a good man,’ says Mahobe, ‘who believed in the artist.’ He studied art and painted while at school. He created watercolours and did pastel drawings, and got his supplies from an art store run by Matthew Whipman near the Metro Bioscope where his father worked.
An artist himself, Whipman encouraged Mahobe to pursue his artistic talent, and often gave him supplies at a substantial discount or for free. Whipman, seeing potential in the young teenager, organised a mini exhibition for Mahobe. ‘Afterwards, Mr Whipman gave me the money. I can’t remember how much, but it was a lot. I went with my father to the post office and opened an account,’ he says. ‘Mr Whipman gave me this break. I think I gained a lot of confidence from this exhibition. It made me realise even though I was so young, that I had a talent and would always be an artist.’ Around this time, he was also attending the Polly Street Art Centre.
At the encouragement of Father Huddleston, Mahobe also started to play double bass in a trio. He left art behind and continued to play music, from his teens until his early twenties, aspiring to the American dream like so many others in Sophiatown at the time. He played with the African Follies, and a couple of times with Hugh Masekela, before deciding that the life of a musician wasn’t for him.
He got married, found a job in Wadeville, in a spring factory, and worked there for 20 years, and had four children. ‘But I never forgot that I was an artist, and although I never made art, I never forgot that this was my path. I knew that someday I would go back to it,’ says Mahobe.
When he was retrenched in the early 1980s, he knew that it was time to go back to art. It wasn’t easy at first – he had forgotten so much – but his sister encouraged him to go to the Mofolo Art Centre. There, she said, he would be able to learn as well as connect to other artists, to relate. ‘It was the best thing for me to have done. They helped me, these artists, and I helped them. We supported each other and shared ideas,’ he says. At Mofolo Art Centre he learnt how to make linocuts, and eventually began working with soft wood as it was much cheaper than painting and he was always able to find scraps of wood.
His artworks tell his life story, his memories and all of the many political changes he has lived through. These stories have been captured in this limited edition book by APS in such an organic way that it feels as if Mahobe is sitting next to you, slowly walking you through his life and passionately describing each artwork.
‘There is so much that I can say. These pictures always bring so much back when I look at them. There is so much in my mind that I can’t tell you all the stories, they get jumbled up and I get confused. But I know that the ones I can tell, these stories and the pictures that I am talking about are important to me. They tell you about my art and they tell you about me. They are my life; the story of my life.’
Make sure you visit the APS stand at the FNB JoburgArtFair to see Mahobe’s work and purchase this special limited edition publication.