midday and the breathless heat is stirred
only by an occasional gust of hot air
– as if a mighty oven door had been
opened briefly to observe the cooking process.
A troop of vervet monkeys lies around the
rocky koppie in various poses of listlessness
slumber. In the shade of his studio, Keith
Joubert is absorbed in applying paint to a
new canvas. The monkeys look on with gentle
curiosity as if hypnotized by the process
of complete concentration and the air of meditation
that surrounds the open thatch studio.
in South Africa with the DNA of pioneering
French Huguenot families in his genes, Keith
Joubert moves easily through his world, where
others tread more cautiously. An endless restless
traveler, Joubert faces extreme frustration
when hampered by mundane event. Freedom is
all-important and the African continent beckons.
The more remote and removed from urban development
the destination, the stronger the call. On
an open map, his eye is drawn to the area
with the least venous network of roads marking
city sprawls - where the blue lines of rivers
can still be distinguished between the contours
over thousands of kilometers of meandering
roads and tracks from heartland to coast,
he is never happier than when he is on the
move. Often driving in silence he absorbs
images that present themselves, however fleeting
to his view. A ragged notebook nestles on
the dashboard, amongst the shells, and bones
and porcupine quills that make up conglomerate
mulch at the base of the windscreen. The notebook
contains several pages of hastily scrawled
shorthand, barely decipherable, as an aide
memoir to recapture concepts and compositions
once back in the studio. It could be a sketch
of a figure draped in coloured cloth; or a
particular shadow pattern on an elephant’s
is silence as he constructs the painting in
his mind; or is he perhaps designing a bicycle
powered maize grinding machine? A silent Keith
Joubert represents an inner jungle of creative
thought from which he can emerge at any angle.
people have met the garrulous, extrovert Joubert.
To be in his company is like a roller coaster
ride – exciting and vibrant, veering
towards awesome and terrifying. At full throttle
he specializes in the grotesque and monstrous.
The creation of beauty and perfect line appears
to necessitate the periodic release of chaos
and disorder, in order to restore harmony.
Few have seen the contemplative, insular Joubert
who studies Africa minutely. Who aches with
the loss of its precious environmental resource
– pristine wilderness.
is preoccupied with the conflict between the
survival of man versus the survival of all
endemic species. The grandeur of African landscapes
is their battleground. The nobility of ancient
cultures that have evolved alongside larger
creatures, plants and microorganisms, who
together share the threat of dissolution,
is a recurrent theme to Joubert’s paintings.
He watches closely as the steady march of
global homogenization seeks to overwhelm and
structured societies crumble in its wake.
in 1948 in Germiston, South Africa, his early
years were spent exploring the open veld that
then surrounded the southern gold mines of
Johannesburg. On horseback or bicycle, he
would disappear for long hours to a fishing
hole, a far off friend, or to chase paradise
whydahs – birds burdened by elaborate
breeding plumage, but still versatile enough
to elude a horse. It was a world of freedom,
wonder, and boyish adventure that set a tone
for the man, who has a deep love for his country
and for Africa.
father was a surveyor on the ‘mines’
who specialized in closing down gold mines
that were no longer viable. The family moved
house often, necessitating changing schools
and social groups, and no doubt contributing
to an attitude of self-reliance. They were
social times however, and a highlight of the
week would be the mine dances, when miners
from different tribal groups across the subcontinent
joined together to perform their own traditional
dances. The exciting rhythms and vibrancy
of the dances told of far off places and deep
African roots, that stirred the imagination
of the young Joubert and awakened in him a
need to explore forever the world that waited
beyond the secure boundaries of the gold mining
learned stick fighting from the African miners.
Meeting for contests that left him thoroughly
bruised but invigorated. He listened to the
words of their songs, of love and longing
for their homes that were so far away. The
beginnings of the paths his life would take
were laid down there.
Joubert began drawing and painting from an
early age. Annual safaris to the Kruger National
Park with his family instilled in him a love
and respect for wildlife and the landscape.
He went on to study at the Johannesburg School
of Art, following a course in Industrial Design
mainly to assuage his parent’s fears
of a career in fine art alone. Working for
a time as a book illustrator, designing covers
for romantic novels, he soon moved to start
his own sign writing business in Phalaborwa.
He freely admits that this move was inspired
purely by the proximity to the Kruger National
Park gate rather than a calculated business
decision. Although he knew then that he needed
to be closely involved in the wildlife areas
of the lowveld region, it was some time before
he gained the confidence enough to live solely
from the sale of his paintings.
this time came, it coincided with an opportunity
to care-take at a camp in the Timbavati Private
Game Reserve. His only requirement was to
keep the baboons off the thatch roof, and
chase the elephants out of the camp. In return
he was able to live and paint within the reserve.
times lonely and isolated, Joubert began to
truly live the life he had envisaged. Listening
to night sounds; awakening to follow tracks.
Learning to read the signs that tell the stories
of the night. He was hungry for this knowledge
and devoured all new information that came
opportunity to work with research scientists
and rangers offered new aspects and the chance
to examine sedated animals closely. To feel
their fur, their muscular structure, and even
to smell their breath, brought him that much
closer to the essence of the animals he was
trying to capture in paint on canvas.
entrenched himself deeply within that vital
area. He was in the right place at the right
time. At first grudgingly, the small community
of lowveld bushveld people soon embraced him.
An eclectic mix of people, drawn together
by a common quest for the romance and adventure
of the African bush.
a restless sprit cannot stay still for long
however. There came a time, some years later,
when he felt the need to venture north. He
had heard tales of the extraordinary characters
living in the small towns of Botswana, and
the great game areas there that exceeded the
bounds of even a fertile imagination. Before
long he was on the move again.
first seduced by the paradise he now found
himself in, it was while in Botswana that
Keith became aware of the struggle for survival
that rural villagers had with their environment.
An elephant became a crop raider, and destroyer
of livelihoods, beyond its image of a large
essentially passive land mammal, and remnant
of a Jurassic period. A giant herbivore that
could threaten the life of herdboys or women
tending the fields. A lion call at night,
which reverberates, to the bone, took on a
new, more vital, and awesome presence. Human
figures crept onto the canvas alongside herds
of animals. Their interplay implied by scale
and use of colour.
of red often symbolize power or potency; a
flake of fine gold leaf reflects the preciousness
and fragility of a creature or scene. Both
are redolent of Africa suggesting the vulnerability,
yet strength of the continent that is in danger
of being overshadowed by contemporary values.
Joubert uses deep swathes of pigment to create
movement across the canvas leading the viewer
on a journey to unravel disturbing details,
awakening an often-dormant recognition in
those that share his passion.
Keith Joubert lives and works in the Selati
Game Reserve, in the lowveld region of north-eastern
South Africa – close to Kruger National
Park. His studio is an open thatched construction
overlooking a waterhole. He is revisiting
the lowveld after many years of living in
remote northern Botswana. In the cycles of
life that he so often refers to, his own has
brought him back to the place where it all
However, the importance of being constantly
able to view his environment with ‘new’
eyes keeps him from settling down in any one
place. Living closely with his subject matter
promotes immediacy in his work – it
is a working ethic that he believes in implicitly.
his current studio base, Joubert now travels
north, west and east – perpetually seeking
little known corners of the continent. His
vehicle is a working tool that has been adapted
for travel over often rough and unforgiving
roads in remote areas. It is a matter of survival
that it be reliable.
travelling he keeps his notebook to hand and
continually jots down notes and sketches in
his peculiar shorthand. On return to the studio
he then works directly onto the canvas. Sketching
in the main subject mater with bold, courageous
brush strokes. Once the structure of the composition
is laid out in this way, he continues to lay
on colour filling out the background and creating
textures with the thickness of the oil paint.
Having structured the composition in his mind
and notebook, Joubert’s working technique
is relatively fast. This enables his paintings
to capture and exude the freshness and energy
of spontaneity – often enhanced by chance
and accident in the behavior of the paint.
line work overlaying the main theme has become
a hallmark of Joubert’s work. Designs
flow seemingly effortlessly from his brush
as he picks out the exquisite forms that combine
to suggest the specific atmosphere of a particular
area. Mythical totem figures co-exist with
finely drawn elephants, lizards or birds –
suggesting the spiritual and historic involvement
of man with his natural environment.
graphic images selected in conjunction with
the focal subject matter must enhance the
image and even tell a story,” explains
Joubert. “For example, images like the
chameleon, serpents, lizards, or frogs are
all images of power and sometimes of sinister
change or transition. Some other images like
ammonites, skulls, or footprints, are just
indications of a much older African evolution.
Possibly, by explanation, a set of symbols
relevant to a warrior or male lion would be
very different to the images related to a
fisherman or soft antelope herds.”
Joubert’s canvases, earthy and abstract
imagery intermingle with the mysterious and
magical – offering both reality and
the transcendent together. The contrasts inherent
in Joubert’s treatment of both ideologies
perhaps reflect a deeper conflict within himself.
does not talk easily about himself, preferring
to talk about his creativity as an almost
separate entity. Ever thankful for the opportunities
it has brought him; he belies the years of
uncompromising dedication and hard work that
have honed his skills.
he is African born and raised, there is nevertheless
a vestigial pull of genealogy that is fundamentally
European. He is continually grappling with
the conflict between his own history and traditions,
and his deep fascination and longing for Africa.
This dichotomy, does however enable him to
view Africa from both standpoints, and thus
to sense intuitively, and pinpoint, the very
characteristics that depict the essence of