• Posted: Sep 10, 2013

Iziko South African National Gallery, 11 September 2013 until 28 February 2014

Opening ‘Plato’s Cave’: The Legacy of Kevin Atkinson (1939-2007),is a landmark exhibition on show at the Iziko South African National Gallery, showcases the work of one of South Africa’s foremost but least understood abstract artists. This posthumous tribute to Atkinson, hosted by Iziko Museums of South Africa, is an acknowledgement of the impressive contribution that he made to South African art.

As an artist-philosopher, Atkinson was as much concerned with ideas, concepts and the spiritual as he was with the purely visual and the physical act of art-making. His research interests included philosophy, metaphysics, abstraction, dualism, symbolism and ritual in art, teaching as an art form and the nature of art and the role of the artist within society. Renowned as both artist and educator, Atkinson inspired generations of students with his almost boundless creative energy and probing intellect.

This exhibition offers an opportunity for a serious re-examination of Atkinson’s life’s work, and includes examples of his early drawings, paintings and prints, dating back to the 1960s, which have never been displayed before. Much of the work on exhibition is drawn from the extensive body of artworks, spanning almost half a century, housed in the underground studio which Atkinson nicknamed ‘Plato’s Cave’.

Also on exhibition from the 1960s are a number of huge, hard-edge, Pop-inspired acrylic works, including Aqua-a-blast (1966) and a kinetic sculpture, the last of his technology dependent works to survive. Atkinson’s sombre and largely monochromatic conceptual works of the 1970s are represented through documentation of performances, prints and paintings around his notion of I am a Verb (1973), now considered to be perhaps the most enduring of his personal artistic statements. 

Dubbed by some art critics as the “guru of Abstract Expressionism” in the 1980s he experimented with a variety of different approaches to art making in a career that spanned over 40 years. The enormous exuberant acrylic paintings of the 1980s and earlier 1990s make a powerful statement while the gently evocative pastel landscapes of the artist’s later years offer a glimpse of the joy that Atkinson took in working in moments of quiet reflection with the simplest of art materials.

Atkinson is probably best known as a painter and a print-maker, but at times he ventured boldly into sculpture, installation art, conceptual art, performance art and even lands art. While his most lasting legacy must be the vast collection of works on canvas and paper, his work came to the attention of the public in the 1960s and 1970s through the large-scale murals and sculptures commissioned to enhance a number of civic buildings. Sadly, most of these are no more, having since been destroyed in the name of progress.

When he retired from teaching in the late 1990s, Atkinson gathered together a remarkable collection of artwork and archival material relating to his own life and work and that of his late wife, the artist and teacher, Patricia Pierce Atkinson, and secured these safely in his underground studio, “Plato’s Cave”. After his death, in 2007, this treasure was left in the hands of the Kevin and Patricia Atkinson Trust, established by Atkinson to promote and care for his artistic legacy and that of his late wife.

Opening ‘Plato’s Cave’: The Legacy of Kevin Atkinson, 1939-2007was co-curated by Hayden Proud, Curator of Historical Collections of Painting and Sculpture, Iziko Museums of South Africa and Stephen Croeser, on behalf of the Kevin and Patricia Atkinson Trust. The exhibition has been made possible through collaboration between Iziko Museums of South Africa and the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town which  have collaborated in establishing a new postgraduate Honours degree in curatorship funded by the Andrew Mellon Foundation; three students on the programme have assisted in the mounting of this exhibition.




Iziko Museums of South Africa (Iziko) operates 11 national museums, the Planetarium, the Social History Centre and three collection‑specific libraries in Cape Town.  The museums that make up Iziko have their own history and character, presenting extensive art, social and natural history collections that reflect our diverse African heritage.  Iziko is a public entity and non-profit organisation that brings together these museums under a single governance and leadership structure.  The organisation allows *free access to all individuals on commemorative days, (*excluding the Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium). Visit our webpage at, join our online community on Facebook ( or follow us on Twitter (@Iziko_Museums) for regular updates on events, news and new exhibitions.

COMMEMORATIVE DAYS – FREE ENTRANCE (excluding Iziko Planetarium and Castle of Good Hope)

  • Human Rights Day: 21 March
  • Freedom Day: 27 April
  • International Museum Day: 25 May
  • Africa Day: 25 May
  • Youth Day: 16 June
  • National Women’s Day: 9 August
  • Heritage Day: 24 September
  • National Aids Awareness Day: 1 December
  • Emancipation Day: 1 December
  • Day of Reconciliation: 16 December
  • Castle of Good Hope and Planetarium, free only on International Museum Day and Heritage Day

blog comments powered by Disqus