by Hazel Friedman

The work of some artists lends itself to the most fluid of critical conversations. It's almost as though every paint stroke and compositional angle has been so artfully preconceived, every material component so intricately choreographed and self-consciously conceptualised in terms of its inter-textuality and multiple references that to "not get it" is to admit to the most contemptible form of visual illiteracy and cultural philistinism.Simon Stone's work is not one of these. Coherent exegesis is not his strong suit and efforts at critical responses sometimes seem tantamount to imposing a linguistic grid on a dialect that defies verbiage. His is not an art that speaks for itself. It speaks to itself in codes that are as inchoate as they are arcane.

At this juncture you're probably thinking I'm about to revert to the pagan Romantic notion of the isolated individual on whom the gods of creativity have bestowed their largesse; the outsider whose truth to art supercedes any other connection to life and whose foibles, flaws and dysfunctionalism are not only forgiven but upheld as proof of their genius. In his introduction to Chicago "Outsider" artist, Henry Darger, art critic Michael Bonesteel describes this species of practitioner as being distinguishable by their inability to differentiate between art and life, making art to document and thereby affirm their fantasies by creating "proof" of their exustence. In short, they literally live their art. And we, in turn, value them as such, in terms of our own representations and mythologies of divine anointment, holy grails, shamanistic visions and idiot-savants. But as much as we elevate them, we also make martyrs and sacrificial lambs of them, should they succumb to "normality", or lose the "plot" altogether.

It is not my intent to tack the "outsider" mantle onto Stone's shoulders. But there is something undeniably compulsive and singularly "other" not only about his persona but his paintings. And this statement is in itself, paradoxical, because Stone's images are instantly, sometimes mundanely familiar. It is of the cigarette stub, street sign, beer can and boiled egg variety. They are the sights we glimpse through the rear-view mirror, through a partially closed curtain, or in a cluttered storeroom: a receding landscape, a clothes hanger, the delicate outline of a naked woman - coquettish, raw and erotic... rational figurative forms, rendered in entirely irrational spaces with a sense of startling, bizarre beauty, painted in variously muddy or glorious hues, sometimes as though by different hands... Whether its the thousands of sketches he has painted, on virtually a daily basis over the last 20 years or his insatiable lust for collecting fishing sinkers and imbuing them with jewel-like luminescence on canvas, they are the fragmented incarnations of an obsessive, unashamedly unholistic consciousness.

My first and only formal interview with Stone was conducted in 1996 during his solo exhibition at the erstwhile Everard Read Contemporary Gallery (ERC). The early to mid '90s was s a halcyon era for a particular species of South African art: bold, precocious, even brattish and always challenging. It was an art that had emerged from the "wilderness" of pariahdom, previously closeted by apartheid yet liberated in its unpacking of the fictions of our history and its pursuit of international dialects within a specifically South African paradigm. And the gallery provided the perfect platform for this "new kid on the global block" bolshiness. Stone was always a bit of an anomaly. in an era of anti-aestheticism, and self-conscious subversiveness, his work was unashamedly traditional, with a twist. In many ways it was the antithesis of the monumental baroque competition pieces produced in the mid 80s to early 90s, before assemblages and installations began to dominate the gallery space. Variously austere and delicate, his paintings revelled in an exploration of colour, form and composition - an anathema within the context of post-modern South Africa. Yet Stone's carrying membership of the art world's elite was never in question.

A graduate with distinction from Michaelis in 1976, Stone has already exhibited widely, alongside Gail Caitlin, Robert Weinek, Braam Kruger, William Kentridge and other luminaries of South African contemporary art. Back in the Autumn of '96 He was already something of a cult hero, reluctantly so, it would seem, from the glowering response I received to my request for an interview. His wilful muteness, broken by unexpected spurts of eloquence are both symptom and consequence of the symbiosis between Stone and his work. We tend to be more comfortable with coherent big ideas. Stone's images, recurring motifs and painterly talismans are parts of more parts of parts. As simple and complex as that.

Although he has been hailed as one of South Africa's finest painters, relatively few critiques - compared to the texts devoted to his peers - have been written on his work. This may be attributed partly to the fact that he exhibits infrequently; but, more beguilingly, the paucity of written documentation may have equally as much to do with the reasons to which I have alluded above: Stone's work, although accessible, does not lend itself to tidy exegesis. In her 1992 review of his solo exhibition at the then recently inagurated ERC Anthea Bristowe perceptively described his streetscapes as "fragments of reality that run through his work like arteries." I subsequently interpreted his imagery, not as streetscapes but, rather, escapes... Today I would venture further to say that they are Stone's caves, serving as repositories for his austere, banal, erotic or free-flying forms, which are "stored' or preserved on canvas and protected from the decay that afflicts the rest of life, love and materiality. Sure, it's possible to delve deep into the psycho-semantics of the tomb-womb symbolism of these painterly caverns. But getting within Stone's throw entails relinquishing the desire for cohesive comprehension, and immersing oneself, rather, in the ebb and syncopated flow of a world of whimsy and wistfulness - where mundaneness, madness, meaning and beauty coalesce.


  • 1952 Lady Grey, Cape Province, RSA


  • 1979 Study of Renaissance Art, Italy
  • 1976 Michaelis School of Art, South Africa


Simon Stone’s work forms part of several collections worldwide and selected corporate collections: Alexander Forbes, Mobil Oil, Anglo American Collection, Pendock Collection, Johannesburg Art Gallery, SA National Gallery, Gencor, UNISA, University of the Witwatersrand


  • 2007 Small works, Knysna Fine Art, Knysna
  • 2006 Recent works, UCT Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town
  • 2004 Recent Oil Paintings, Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 2002 Recent Oil Paintings, Simon Mee Fine Art in conjucntion with Knysna Fine Art, London, UK
  • 2001 Some Recent OIl Paintings & 29,000 Works on Paper, Knysna Fine Art, Knysna
  • 2000 Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 2000 Small works, Everard Read Gallery, Cape Town
  • 1996 Painting from Under the Skin, Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1993 Recent works on paper
  • 1992 Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1989 Cassirer Fine Art, Johannesburg
  • 1987 Karen McKerron Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1985 Karen McKerron Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1983 Market Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1978 Fabian Fine Art, Cape Town


  • 1988 With William Kentridge, Gallery International, Cape Town
  • 1988 Exhibition of combined works executed by Braam Kruger and Simon Stone, SAAA, Pretoria and Potchefstroom
  • 1987 With Margaret Vorster, NSA, Durban


  • 2008 Intermit distance, Iziko South African National Gallery
  • 2008 Modern and Contemporary art, Then now and beyond, Polokwane Museum
  • 2004 10 Years Democracy, Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 2003 The Ampersand Foundation, 1997 to 2003, Warren Siebrits Contemporary Art
  • 2002 Art for AIDS Orphans Auction, Cape Town
  • 1998 GAROB (the dry land), Knysna Fine Art, Knysna
  • 1997 - 1998 CYST, Works in Paint, travelling exhibition, Cape Town & Johannesburg
  • 1997 Opening exhibtion, Knysna Fine Art, Knysna
  • 1996 Common and Uncommon Ground, South African Art Atlanta, Georgia
  • 1995 Panoramas of Passage, Changing Landscapes of South Africa, Meridian International Centre, Washington DC
  • 1994 Displacements: South African Works on Paper 1984 to 1994, Mary & Leigh Blok Gallery, Northwestern University, USA
  • 1994 State of the Art, Everard Read Gallery
  • 1992 Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1991 Triennial, Cape Town
  • 1988 DPSC Exhibition, Market Gallery, Johannesburg
  • 1988 Triennial, Cape Town
  • 1987 The Portrait, UNISA
  • 1987 Alternative Art, The Netherlands
  • 1986 Volskas Atelier
  • 1986 Portraits, Johannesburg Art Foundation
  • 1986 Zululand Arts Festival, UZ
  • 1985 Opening of Gallery, Johannesburg Art Foundation
  • 1985 Triennial, Cape Town
  • 1993 The Wits Lecturers Exhibition, Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg
  • 1980 Olivetti Art Opening, Johannesburg
  • 1980 South African Art, Gaborone, Botswana


  • 1997 Ampersand Foundation, New York Award
  • 1986 Merit Art Awards, Volkskas Atelier
  • 1976 Irma Stern Scholarship

Download a pdf of Simon's CV.