Reclusive, modest and largely underrated by the contemporary art world, Helmut Starcke, who has died at the age of 82, nevertheless produced some of the most intelligent and emblematic images in South African painting over the last 50 years. With his sharp graphic sensibility, he pioneered the use of art as a vehicle for social and political criticism as far back as the early 1960s, going on to absorb, reflect and transmit the influences of Pop Art and Photo-Realism in the decades that followed. An accomplished master in the medium of acrylic paint, he saw art history as a rich treasure source from which to draw in the creation of paintings that remain surprising, fresh, relevant and wholly contemporary. His exhibition of 2004 entitled The Muse of History at the Iziko Old Town House/Michaelis Collection offered a dense critique in visual terms of the Dutch colonial period in South Africa.
A Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at UCT’s Michaelis School of Fine Art for many years, he initially came from a background in advertising in Germany, but quietly pursued his passion for experimentation and painting while teaching. His draftsmanship had flair underpinned by firm discipline, and his brush was wielded with a similar sense of surety of touch combined with great sensitivity. He is represented in every public art collection in South Africa, and in many corporate collections worldwide.

Hayden Proud
Curator of Historical Collections of Painting and Sculpture
Iziko Museums of South Africa

Image caption: Dreams and Nightmares of Maria de Quellerie (2001) acrylic on canvas

See more of Helmut Starcke’s works and biography here