It is important to be able to work alone, undisturbed, with a rhythm of your very own. Of course one cannot work in complete isolation, and one should try to keep in touch with what is being done by many brilliant people, and learn from them. But overall one must guard against confusion.
- Esias Bosch
An illustrious career with highlights that span decades - the chronology of Esias Bosch's achievements has been documented in various forms and by many authors. On the chronology page you will find a summarized chronology with links to more detailed sections about each era of his work and life. Simply click on the underlined headings within the chronology below to open individual sections for perusal.
His younger daughter, author Andre Eva Bosch, and Johann de Waal, chronicled an acclaimed book about Esias, which spans the years between 1923 and 1978 and is available to enjoy in its entirety - click here to view it.
To further enhance the collaborative offering of information about the life and work of Esias Bosch, scholarly work is included – click here to read a dissertation of interest.
South African artist Esias Bosch is often referred to as the doyen of South African creative ceramics. He is described as a master of clay and colour and one of the few master potters in the world.
Esias Bosch was born on July 11, 1923, in the small town of Winburg in the Free State Province of South Africa. His parents wanted their son to become a dentist, but against their wishes he followed his heart to study art at the Johannesburg School of Art. This was an auspicious decision, which would bring him much reward, satisfaction and recognition.
After completing his studies in 1946, he was awarded a scholarship to study ceramics in London. He left for England in 1949 at the age of twenty-six and served his apprenticeship with two of England’s most famous potters, Raymond Finch and Michael Cardew. He soon grew to love the medium of clay and displayed a natural talent for the wheel. Raymond Finch said of his young, enthusiastic South African apprentice: ‘Esias clearly had the makings of a talented potter. And his subsequent career has proved this to the full.’
Thus the foundations for a highly successful career as a potter were established. In the book titled Esias Bosch, by J. de Waal and A. Bosch (Struik Winchester 1988 - click here) Murray Schoonraad writes the following: ‘Bosch has developed a ceramic tradition that has exerted a great influence on many potters in this country, to the extent that echoes or reminders of his forms and colours are discernible at nearly every exhibition of ceramics.’
Bosch returned to South Africa in 1953 to head the ceramics department of the Durban Art School. He tells an anecdote that refers to this period and illustrates his drive to make a living from ceramics: ‘Because of my own overwhelming desire to make my own pots, I rented a backyard in Umbilo Road, where I built a small electric kiln. Nobody wanted my pots in Durban. Hand-made pots were foreign to them. They said they imported their pottery from England. After a firing I would load my best pieces on a wheelbarrow and push them to the railway station. I had no other way to transport my pots.’
After two years in Durban, Bosch and his young family moved to Pretoria where he worked in the medium of earthenware in a small, basic ‘studio’, nothing more than a lean-to under a roof of corrugated iron. The conditions were extremely difficult and in that period in South Africa there were no other studio potters he could forge a reciprocal relationship with: ‘Another factor adding to the difficulties was that there was no one I could approach for advice on ceramics – there simply was nobody to go to! Books on ceramics were scarce; there was only Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book, which actually contained very little of technical interest to the South African potter. All I could do, therefore, was to work and experiment.’ Bosch, always an artist with a strong compulsion to retain his individuality, persevered with typical tenacity.
After a few years in Pretoria he decided to follow his yearning to live in the countryside and in 1961 he and his wife Valerie, and their three young children Esra, Andre and Anton, settled near White River, in what was to become known as the Mpumalanga Province. On a property comprising ten hectares of unspoilt Lowveld bush, he built a house and studio — designed by the celebrated architect Norman Eaton — on a granite outcrop overlooking a beautiful valley and the mountains of Swaziland in the far distance. He had always wanted to have a studio close to his home: ‘One has to be able to walk out after dinner and attend to the work. Clay is one material you can never lock the doors on — it needs constant attention.’
He would live and work on his beloved ‘Randjie’ — as he and his wife Valerie called their property — for the rest of his life and always felt that the Lowveld was his land Canaan.
The first structure he built on Die Randjie was a kiln, a Michael Cardew design. There was no money to erect a roof over it and thus his first firings were executed in open air. Of these early days he tells an amusing story: ‘The strange domed construction on the granite outcrop resembled a temple, and I suspect people thought that outlandish rituals took place there. One evening, while I was quietly minding the firing — the whole area bathed in an eerie red light from the spyholes and chimney — the police arrived to investigate this phenomenon!’
By this time, he had exhausted the possibilities of earthenware and began working solely in stoneware. Demand for his work picked up and he sold almost everything he made. After years of unremitting and disciplined work, whilst he acquired the most demanding skills a potter can aim to achieve, he began to create work which reflected mastery of form and decoration. His career began to blossom. Locally, he was commissioned by various institutions to produce work and his exhibitions were avidly attended by art collectors.
On the international front, his reputation expanded as well. In 1963 he was awarded a silver medal by the Smithsonian Institute in the Ninth International Exhibition of Ceramic Art in Washington DC; he was invited to enter work for the prestigious International Ceramics Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1972 and in 1983 he held a very successful exhibition of large lustre tiles in Hanover, Germany. One of the tiles was purchased by the Keramion Museum in Cologne for their international collection of ceramics. Esias Bosch was now firmly established.
In the years to follow, he would receive numerous awards in South Africa, including the Oude Libertas Award and a medal of honour by the South African Academy for Science and Art and a Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Pretoria.
After fifteen years of working in stoneware, Bosch, always driven by a need to innovate and a restlessness to fully explore the medium of ceramics, felt he had overcome the challenges of stoneware. He moved on with the prodigious energy he was known for, to work exclusively in the medium of porcelain, in 1975.
He had had no previous experience of porcelain, and once again he devoted himself to mastering the medium in his own way, by trial and error: ‘Studio potters in South Africa knew very little of the medium. I was impressed once again by the value of a ceramic tradition. Imagine what progress could have been made if one had not been forced to learn by trial and error all the time.’
Bosch’s first two porcelain exhibitions were sell-outs. Fellow potter Thelma Marcuson said: ‘Meeting the challenge of this nervous clay, Esias developed his own porcelain body, drawing on his vast experience. Many of us profited from his generous sharing and his help with our own technical problems.’
But easily bored after mastering a new type of clay or technique, Bosch became curious of exploring the possibilities of working on a flat surface, and so, in 1988 began many years of working solely on large and imposing wall tiles, on which he could express his love of decorating and painting on a flat surface.
He began experimenting with gold lustre on porcelain tiles. After overcoming complex technical difficulties he produced for seven years very large tiles of sumptuous beauty, in sizes up to 1,6 x 1,25 metres. Rose Korber says of these pieces which she describes as possessing ‘Byzantine splendour’: ‘The effect of the play of light on their highly reflective surfaces is almost kinetic, as the viewer moves slowly past the vertical tile. The light catches the gold highlights of the low relief at different angles, resulting in a vibrant interplay of shape and colour.’
It was during this time, in 1992, that his beloved wife Valerie passed away, a loss Esias would never fully recover from. Valerie had been his mainstay during the difficult earlier years of his career, always encouraging him to persevere. She created a beautiful home, admired by all who came to Die Randjie, and he relied on her in so many ways that she was an indispensable part of his life and his success.
Despite the loss, Bosch continued to work. Always a dedicated family man, he found solace in the presence of his children and grandchildren.
In the back of his mind was a dream he harboured — to eventually stop working in ceramics in order to work exclusively in the mediums of painting and drawing. By now, lustres had lost their charm, but it was not yet time to leave the medium of clay behind. He discovered ways of producing very large and extremely thin vitrified wall tiles decorated with multiple layers of underglaze ceramic stains and fired several times. He described the tiles in this way: ‘These tiles are not completely flat and never reflect the light uniformly, which seems to impart something dynamic to the work.’
As with all Bosch’s previous work, these tiles also very soon became sought after and reached the attention of collectors. Esias, always an intrepid traveller, continued to travel and explore different cultures in these years with his companion at the time, Nitsa Christopher.
When Esias Bosch turned eighty in 2003, he worked in clay for the last time and took up again the direction he excelled in as a student — that of painting and drawing.
In his paintings he attempted to distil the silence and infinite peace of space, and themes such as the ephemeral beauty of clouds, light dancing on the sea and koi fish whirling in an eddy of colour are characteristic of his work. Murray Schoonraad evaluated his oil paintings thus: ‘Intense concentrations of form and colour, delicately executed and extremely successful, reminiscent of the water lilies of Monet.’
In his last years, Bosch began working with wood-pen drawings on paper and gesso, producing compelling drawings of indigenous Lowveld trees. He regarded each drawing as a portrait: ‘Every drawing is unique, as each tree has its own light and shadow and interesting leaf, branch and trunk characteristics. I have great admiration for botanical artists, but I am not one – I try only to capture the character of each tree.’
Bosch ended his career spending hours making these drawings, and often commented on the pleasure he derived from the work. Even as he became frail and only able to work for short periods, shortly before his death, he could be found in his studio drawing yet another portrait of the Lowveld trees he loved so much.
To browse copies of tree drawings for sale, please click here.
Bosch died on April 24, 2010 at the age of 86.
Two of his children, Esra and Anton, received mentoring by him and worked alongside him for many years. Both are noted contemporary ceramists. Anton Bosch and his wife Hanlie have a studio not far from Die Randjie (www.boschstudio.co.za) and their daughter Nina is a third-generation Bosch ceramic artist (www.ninabosch.co.za).
Esias Bosch’s daughter Esra Bosch works in her late father’s studio and lives on Die Randjie. Follow Esra on Facebook at Esra Bosch Ceramic Studio, and see the Contact Page for a map and directions. Her website (www.esrabosch.co.za) is a colourful overview of some of her work - for more recent work feel free to pay the studio a visit.
For chronological details of Bosch’s artistic career, please click here.
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COPYRIGHT | In terms of South Africa’s Copyright Act, No. 98 of 1978, no reproduction of Esias Bosch artwork is allowed without permission from the copyright holders. Any person who reproduces this reproduction or any other Esias Bosch artwork in any form, without the permission of the copyright holders, will be deemed to have infringed the copyright and will be liable for a damages claim at the instance of the copyright holders.