Colbert Mashile is a painter and visual artist who has developed a unique iconographical language within South African art, often dealing with the mystical, mythological and archaic elements of traditional African culture and its legacy on present-day life. Within the context of a modern, hybridized and integrated post-apartheid society, these practices, customs and rituals have inevitably filtered into contemporary consciousness and contribute to the complex psychological landscape which characterizes the new culture in a historically divided country. Mashile’s early work dealt primarily with the traumatic, cruel and highly controversial circumcision rituals practiced widely upon young black initiates of both sexes, in different guises, as ceremonious, tribal, coming-of age rites of passage. These practices are criticized and condemned locally and internationally as cruel and inhumane and especially in terms of their long-term psychosomatic impact. Mashile draws on his own experiences, memory and psyche in an autonomous and intuitive process, creating vivid and intricate imagery, recalling both Surrealism and the satirical Pop art of artists such as Phillip Guston or more recently, George Condo.
Mashile’s consummate understanding and application of colour conveys metaphorical meaning and signifies the artist’s innate, organic understanding and connection to the land and its occupants. Colour is a tool employed to evoke and trigger emotional and emotive responses and through very considered colour combinations, the subtle manipulation of light and the sensitive insertion of visual stimuli, Mashile communicates on an instinctual level. Mashile’s training and formative background in printmaking, is ever-present and his predisposition for graphic construction serves to integrate and anchor the disparate wanderings of the unconscious and the subconscious. Mashile’s distinctive and original work escapes typical classification and despite the inherent cultural references, the visual landscape (and its inhabitants) are ambiguous and intriguing beyond its local origins. From within his well-honed and individual stylistic framework, the scope of Mashile’s focus has expanded in recent years to deliver incisive political commentary and criticism. Originally from the rural Mpumalanga province, Mashile currently lives and works in the picturesque area of Howick in Kwazulu-Natal.