The Sibley Story: First Solo at Age 68

Supplied | Dean McCoubrey:

Sibley McAdam launched his first solo exhibition at the Stephan Welz Cape Town Studios earlier this year; selling 29 paintings over two days.

Working in acrylic mostly, but occasionally in charcoal, the artist has several different styles – but either focusing on surrealism, or interesting characters. He explains, “Through my art, I want to communicate where my experience meets expression, sharing an interpretation of my view on the world, culture, society, religion, and the earth.”

With over 90 paintings on show, he enjoyed a full house on his opening night, with artists, buyers and supporters spilling out onto the sidewalk. “I never really expected what would happen on the night.” He adds, “My first solo exhibition was less about a single inspiration and more about the courage to step forward and put my work out there – so I decided to share a diversity of work and see what people found intriguing. This is a journey of exploration for me. The central thread, though, for many of my pieces is around the bigger questions of what this existence is all about, and my interpretation of that. Buyers chose very different things, as opposed to one particular preference standing out.”

Sibley was born in 1948, and it was while growing up in Broken Hill, a mining town in Zambia, that he first picked up his pencil and started to draw due to dyslexia – art offered a place of refuge that soon became his passion.

After attending school in Port Elizabeth at Grey High School, he started in the antique business for many years restoring and buying Cape furniture, while also moving into fabric design during the period in which he and Lynn ran Biggie Best. From initially carving decoy ducks, using a block of wood and a chisel, he started designing and manufacturing his own range of English and French country furniture in 1987. The Block & Chisel business grew steadily to become a national retail business, and the company’s newly launched energy efficient manufacturing plant now employs 36 individuals, who have been upskilled and professionally trained to become master craftsmen. Self-taught, Sibleygraduated from pencil drawings to a draftsman table, and through to hand-finished paint techniques, using only his eye and learnings from each new piece of furniture he created. “Trial and error has been my greatest teacher,” he says.

However, he was compelled to follow his true vocation as an artist, and now focuses solely on his art, painting almost every day.

“It’s not so much a transition from furniture designer to artist, because I’ve always had that artist in me. Even from a young age. But for a large part of my life I sidestepped my true vocation because it just wasn’t the right thing to do. So I expressed myself creatively through furniture design and manufacturing, which was fantastic, until I found that place of real liberation to set the art free. Very similar to the message I convey in many of my paintings, we sometimes get stuck in the machine, working through life with what is presented to us at the time, each cog turning the next, until a window presents itself and you decide to take the jump. I realise now it doesn’t matter what age you find your true passion, as long as you find it, and live it with truth. All the dots have lined up now, and so much of what I have experienced makes sense from my childhood dyslexia to my love of great artists, to the trial and error within my furniture design that has allowed me to make the leap.”

In just a short space of time since sharing his art publicly, his work has sold all around the world, particularly in London and New York, as well as Spain, The Bahamas, and Bermuda.

2018-10-23T18:49:27+00:00