Piet Grobler, born in Nystroom in 1959, grew up in the province of Limpopo and is one of South Africa’s most significant picture book illustrators. After completing his theology studies he was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church for five years. In the early nineties he turned to art, studied journalism and graphic design and began working as an illustrator. Since then he has designed more than seventy books, which have been enthusiastically received and translated into many languages. His work captivates the reader through its symbiosis of European-style illustration and African folk art. It spans editorial design, picture books and installations.
Grobler creates an aesthetic universe peopled with humans, animals, angels and monsters. The world in which he renders his brightly coloured illustrations is a beguilingly light-hearted one, without boundaries and prejudices. References to biblical history, classical fables and African folklore are integrated in the stories. Grobler has developed an unmistakable visual idiolect with his playful, humorous approach – the »Pietness«, as enthusiasts of his art call it. He uses acrylics, gouache and pastel, but also watercolours and India ink on handmade paper or in combination with collages. Among his masterpieces is the picture book »Carnival of the Animals« (1998; text: Philip de Vos), inspired by Saint-Saëns’ musical composition. Grobler’s illustrations take up the ironic fundamental tone of the piece in their caricaturing strokes, and carry their own melody at the same time. »The nervous squiggles and dreamlike edginess of Grobler’s etchings, rendered in a palette of brown, gold, and blue, recall the work of Paul Klee«, Booklist lauded his vignettes. The picture book received several awards, including the Prix Octogones de Chêne (1999). In »Please Frog, Just One Sip!« (2002), the illustrator presents a disarming story about peaceful conflict resolution. The animals of the savannah use lovable tricks in their attempt to elicit water from a selfish frog who drank all of the reserves of that precious elixir of life. Grobler incorporates elements of Zulu culture in »Makwelane and the Crocodile« (2004), a colourfully impressive collage that tells a variation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. »Little Bird’s ABC« (2005) is Grobler’s onomatopoeically elegant interpretation of the alphabet with his favourite character, the bird.
Among the numerous awards Grobler has received for his transformative artistic abilities is the Noma Concours’ Silver Medal (1997, 2003) and the MER Prize (2006). In 2008 he was South Africa’s candidate for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Art collections all around the world have acquired his works. Grobler is a university lecturer for illustration, gives workshops for children and is the owner of the »Hoi Hannelore!« gallery. He lives with his wife and young daughter in Stellenbosch.
© international literature festival berlin