ARTIST Stanley Pinker, who died at the age of 87 in Cape Town this month, began painting at 18. And, although he was a popular and accomplished lecturer in painting at the University of Cape Town's Michaelis School of Fine Art for many years - Marlene Dumas, considered the world's highest-paid living female artist, was among his students - he continued painting into his 80s.
For a while, Pinker, who was born in Windhoek and studied art under South African master Maurice van Essche, was uncertain that, as a white European born in a colony, he belonged in Africa and, in 1951, left to live in Europe. After 12 years, he returned and, in 1969, began working at Michaelis, where he taught until 1986.
Pinker, whose work is branded by his enjoyment of colour and humorous detail, used metaphor and seditious insinuation to navigate South African politics. This, wrote art historian and dealer Michael Stevenson in his monograph on Pinker - published on his 80th birthday, which coincided with an exhibition of works from Pinker's private collection - is what set him apart from many other artists at a time when overt reference to the political situation was prevalent.
"The struggle is everywhere to be seen in his paintings of the 1970s and 1980s, yet they are not easily classified as 'struggle art' focused on sociopolitical issues," writes Stevenson. "Pinker engages with the characters and contradictions of South African life as well as with the history of European easel painting. He uses a visual vocabulary which is unequivocally South African to explore issues of colonialism and capitalism."
A sculptor, former assistant director at the South African National Gallery and lecturer at Michaelis, Bruce Arnott met Pinker in the 1960s and worked with him for years.
"The quality of his paintings in particular was consistently outstanding," says Arnott. "Lyrical line, colour and composition, a feeling for light, wry humour and subtle pathos characterise his art. He remained at the forefront of the visual arts in SA and sustained an international standard."
A former student of Pinker's in the late 1970s, artist and teacher Mari Lecanides Arnott, remembers him as an "excellent teacher because he imparted his vast knowledge and deep understanding in the field of fine art and particularly in painting. Most importantly, Stanley encouraged students to find their unique form of expression through their paintings and, to this end, he spent many hours providing insights about painting to his students on an individual basis. I feel privileged to have been a student of such an inspiring teacher and a great painter such as Stanley Pinker. "
Strauss & Co sold the Wheel of Life, considered one of Pinker's most astute allegories of political folly, for R2,4m in 2010. Earlier this year, the auction house sold his Girl In Sunglasses for R1,44m.