Photo of Tyrone Appollis

Tyrone Appollis

b. Cape Town, 1957

Visual artist, musician and poet since the 1970s, Appollis works explore the interface between the challenges of the everyday and the limitlessness of the spirit and imagination.

Art Education

1978-1987: Mostly self-taught, part-time student at Community Arts Project.


2004 Pro Helvetia Residency, Altes Spital, Solothurn, Switzerland.

1989 Toured Europe on British Council grant.

Exhibitions (solo)

2010 The Framery Gallery, Sea Point, Cape Town.

2008 These houses we live in, Irma Stern Museum, UCT, Cape Town.2006: Yesterday and Today, Sanlan Art Gallery, Bellville, Cape Town.

2001 No Apologies, Association for Visual Art, Cape Town.

1997 AVA, Cape Town.

1993 Karen McKerron Gallery, Johannesburg.

1992 Chelsea Gallery, Wynberg, Cape Town.

1988 South African Association of Art, Cape Town.

1982 Rocklands Library, Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.

Exhibitions (group)

2010 1910-2010: From Pierneef to Gugulective, Iziko South African National Gallery, Cape Town. International Museum Day, George Museum, George, South Africa.

2009 Precedents and Currents, Mayibuye Centre, UWC, Bellville, Cape Town. Decade, Sanlam Art Gallery, Bellville, Cape Town.

2007 africa south, AVA, Cape Town.

2006 Self portraits, Chelsea Gallery, Cape Town. Botaki 4, Old Mutual Asset Managers, Pinelands, Cape Town. Boland Kelder (with Garth Erasmus and Sophie Peters), Paarl.

2005 Botaki 2, OMAM; Botaki 3, OMAM, Cape Town.

2004 Arty milk cans, AVA, Cape Town.

2000 Itheko lokuza nethemba elitsha (A Celebration for Bringing New Hope), Bell-Roberts Fine Art Gallery, Cape Town.

1999 Post Cards from South Africa, Axis Gallery, New York.

1996 Cognizance, Ingqwalasela, Herkening., AVA, Cape Town.

1993 Salon Biennial, Grand Palais, Paris. I wish you well on your way (Tribute to John Muafangejo), Chelsea Gallery, Wynberg, Cape Town.

1991 Cape Town Triennial, South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

1990 Freedom Now, Conservatoire of Music, Windhoek, Namibia.

1989 Rahmen Gallerie (with Peter Clarke and Ishmael Thyssen), Langei, Germany.

1988 Artists against Apartheid, Luxurama Theatre, Wynberg, Cape Town.

Performances (poetry reading and music)

2010 Geroeste Musiek, Tyrone in Concert, Artscape, Athlone Civic Centre, Cape Town.

2009 Cape Town Book Fair (reading to children his new story The Silver Saxophone and The Magic Paintbrush), CTICC, Cape Town. Tyrone’s Geroeste Musiek, Voorkamer Fesival, Darling, Cape Town.

2008 Cape Town Book Fair, book launch, Train to Mitchells Plain, Cape Town. Poetry Africa, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.

2007 Joe Schaffers and fellow musicians (with Tyrone Appollis and Boeta Katjie), District Six Museum, Cape Town.

Public collections

Iziko South African National Gallery, University of Cape Town, University of Western Cape; Western Cape Provincial Government; Durban Art Gallery; Pretoria Art Museum; South Africa House, London; Department of Education, South Africa; Groote Schuur Hospital; Constitutional Court of South Africa; SASOL and SANLAM.

Private collections

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Judge Albie Sachs, former President Nelson Mandela and former President Thabo Mbeki.


2007 Ingrid Jonker Memorial, Gordon’s Bay, Cape Town. Sunday Tmes Heritage Project.

2006 Woolworths bags, Cape Town.

2004 Mural painting, Bridgeville Primary School, Cape Town.

1998 J&B Metropolitan Horse Race poster.

1997 City of Cape Town (painting for Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Freedom of the City).

1996 SA Gourmet Festival poster.

Publications (books, magazines, newspapers, videos and catalogues)

2010 Friends pitch in for jazz maestro cancer

2009 Cultural vagabond has his own flair, Cape Times, August 27. T Appollis, The Silver Saxophone, Cambridge University Press, Cape Town. Appollis & Maclay-Mayers, The Magic Paintbrush, Cambridge University Press, Cape Town. S Hundt (ed.), Decade, Sanlam Life Insurance, Bellville (exhibition catalogue).

2008 Tyrone Appollis, Train to Mitchells Plain, Tyrone Appollis, Cape Town. Appollis art exhibition, Cape Times, September 9.

2006 S Hundt (ed.), Tyrone Appollis-Today and yesterday, Sanlam Life Insurance, Bellville. Appollis presents a study of contradictions, Cape Argus, September 1. Mario Pissarra, Botaki Exhibition 4: Conversation with Tyrone Appollis, Old Mutual Asset Managers, Cape Town (exhibition catalogue).

2005 C Blum, Kapkunst/Cape Art: 12 Portraits of South African Artists, Murmann, Hamburg. Mario Pissarra, Botaki: Exhibition 2: Conversations with Sophie Peters, OMAM, Cape Town.

2004 M Darrol et. al, Art for Aids Orphans Auction, Paperpback, Cape Town. Mario Pissarra, Botaki: Conversations with South African artists, OMAM, Cape Town. The rights of a child, Kwela Books, Cape Town & Lemniscaat, Rotterdam.

2003 McGee and Voyiya, The Luggage is Still Labelled: Blackness in South african Art (dvd).

1993 M Martin et. al, Made in Wood: Work from the Western Cape, South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

1991 C Till et. al, Cape Town Triennial, Rembrandt van Rijn Art Foundation, Cape Town. Tribute Magazine. A Sitas, William Zungu-Xmas Story, Buchu Books, Cape Town.

1988 G Ogilvie, The Dictionary of South African Painters and Sculptors, Everard Read, Johannesburg. A Oliphant, Ten Years of Staffrider, Ravan Press, Johannesburg. R Rive, Emergency, David Philip Publishers, Claremont.



Train to Mitchells Plain Tyrone Appollis

2008. ISBN-13: 978-0620411387

Bold Strokes for the suffering Suzy Bell. Cape Times. 13 June 2012

Conversations with Tyrone Appollis [essay written for exhibition catalogue]

© Mario Pissarra, 1/12/2005

Botaki features artists who deserve greater exposure. While some of these artists can be characterized as ‘emerging’, in certain cases they may have significant public profiles, although a case of neglect can still be argued. Take Tyrone Appollis, a professional artist since the late 1970s, who has been featured on numerous occasions in the press and on television. Appollis has work in several public and corporate collections, as well as in the private collections of some of the country’s most prominent public figures. He has also been a source of inspiration for many artists of his generation as well as younger artists. Certainly Appollis has come a long way since the days he hawked his paintings door to door in residential areas. Why then should Botaki feature Appollis?

The case for featuring Appollis in Botaki rests on two related points. The first is that Appollis is almost consistently, and sometimes inexplicably excluded from most of the best known books on South African art. The second is that, particularly over the last 15 years, a period coinciding with the lifting of the international cultural boycott of apartheid , Appollis continues to be overlooked by curators responsible for exhibitions of South African art abroad. These are objective observations that cannot be disputed. The question as to why he has been denied this level of recognition, despite considerable ‘popular’ acclaim, is more difficult to answer. In my view there are several factors contributing to Appollis’ marginalization in certain quarters. It can be argued that the essentially positive, often playful, always accessible art of Appollis is frowned upon by advocates of so-called serious art. Ironically the fact that his art is popular with ‘ordinary’ people means that, for some, it has less value. The fact that he makes his living through selling his art, without the benefit of being promoted by leading art dealers or the security of a university salary means that he can be perceived (and consequently dismissed) as ‘commercial’. There is also the question of his personality, Appollis is, in his own words “volatile” and there is no doubt that at times his provocative nature has alienated key personalities in the art world, although there are also those who are not unsettled by his forthright manner. The fact is, few people harbor neutral feelings about both his personality and his art.

At the macro-level it can also be argued that the agenda for South African art has been set from the outside, particularly by African born curators residing in the western metropole. This has been particularly since the controversial 2nd Johannesburg Biennale (1997) which was instrumental in shifting the emphasis in South African contemporary art away from painting and sculpture towards so-called new media such as digital photography, video, installations and performance art. Arguably this was in part a reactive position, based on a rejection of the idea of African art as ‘primitive’, an idea that has dominated western perceptions of Africa for over a century. As a painter who admires so-called naïve or self-taught artists for the original and fresh pictorial solutions that the best of them devise, Appollis is definitely out of step with this current trend that views the use of technology as synonymous with sophistication.

If I have so far argued why Appollis can be considered a ‘neglected’ artist, then what are the qualities in his work that make it interesting and worthy of more attention? The key to understanding Appollis’ art is his conviction that “an artist must be of his time”. His art is rooted in his geographic identity as a Capetonian, in his historic identity as a ‘coloured’ person, in his post-apartheid national identity as a South African, in his non-racial identity as an African, and in his humanistic identity as a member of the global community of artists. All of these identities co-exist in him as a person, and inform his art.

Appollis is also an artist of his time in that his work has clearly been influenced by the major political events within recent South African history. His painting Burying the White Horse (c. 1976-78) dating back to his days as a student of Cecil Skotnes at the Community arts Project, at its original site in Mowbray, is a symbolic treatment of the triumph over adversity and oppression. If we understand the introduction of the horse in African history as closely associated with military conquest by invading forces, then the intended meaning of the painting in the context of the period following the Soweto Uprisings becomes clear. It is however a precocious testament of his evocative powers as an artist that the image retains its potency today, even if a political reading is not given to the work. This painting also implicitly hints at the optimist residing within Appollis, which has become most pronounced in the post-apartheid period, most vividly expressed in his utopian images of the new and the African Renaissance.

One should of course not forget Appollis the musician and Appollis the creative writer. Indeed his works fuse painterly, literary and musical elements, and could be considered as songs, poems and short stories as much as they are paintings, and it should not come as a major surprise that he cites Bob Marley as a major influence on his work, amidst the likes of Vincent van Gogh and Gerard Sekoto. His literary qualities also introduce or emphasise the political dimensions implicit in many of his works, particularly in his use of titles. Looking Down on Grabouw refers to both the perspective adopted by the artist on his visit to the small town, as well as to the condescending attitudes frequently applied by ‘educated’ persons to the rural poor. Beyond Heideveldt, a reference to the ‘coloured township’ of Heideveld communicates an idyllic vision of life away from the claustrophobia of tenement and sub-economic housing. The emphatic spelling of “veldt” mocks the deceit of apartheid’s forced removals of entire communities to the ghettoes of Lavender Hill, Grassy Park and other similarly named locations in the Cape Flats

As with previous featured artists, Appollis’ paintings have been complemented with works by other artists whose aesthetic concerns demonstrate both points of convergence, as well as points of contrast. Musical, poetic and narrative elements, the transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary, the acute sense of time and place, an emphasis on colour and line as expressive formal elements, acute observation, the use of the imagination as a site of liberation, these are some of the prominent features in the art of Tyrone Appollis. The accompanying artists: Peter Clarke, Xolile Mtakatya, Sophie Peters, Madi Phala, Ayesha Price, Thulani Shuku, Velile Soha, and Mandla Vanyaza demonstrate an engagement with at least some of these elements in their own ways. Rather than spell out the rationale for their individual inclusions, I leave these brief comments as keys for you as the viewer to enter into your own ‘conversations’ with the artists on this exhibition.

Mario Pissarra, October 2005

This essay was written for Botaki Exhibition 4: Conversations with Tyrone Appollis curated by Mario Pissarra for Old Mutual Asset Managers, Cape Town, 2005