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Wednesday, August 31, 2011


(The cover of “Ringmaster of the Imagination”)

A new book on Port Elizabeth artist Frederick (Fred) Hutchinson Page (1902–1984) has been published. Titled The Ringmaster of the Imagination, it is an inside view on the life and journey of the artist. Page is considered to be one of South Africa’s foremost surrealist painters.

The book is written by Eastern Cape art biographer Jeanne Wright who was commissioned by Page’s attorney and friend, Cecil Kerbel. It is the first comprehensive compilation of the artist’s work and much of the work portrayed in the book has been drawn from private collections and therefore revealed for the first time. Previously, the only work available to the public is held in some national galleries and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth which holds all his memorabilia as well as a major collection of his work.

Cecil Kerbel, a lifetime friend and the person who funded the project, says: "This biography is the realization of a lifelong ambition for me. I am delighted that at long last, Fred Page is receiving the recognition that he deserves.” Fred met Cecil when he was in his early 20’s. Cecil was fascinated by Fred’s art and they developed a close friendship.

Page lived and worked for most of his life in one of the oldest parts of the Port Elizabeth called Central, situated above Port Elizabeth’s harbour. Using the buildings as a backdrop to a range of characters and narratives, he has documented with considerable accuracy, areas of the city’s architecture that reflect a specific time within the city’s history. Reclusive by nature, Page did not receive much publicity during his lifetime. His subject matter was obscure and unfashionable for many years and did not hold much appeal for the general public. However, his output has subsequently been recognized as an important and unique reflection of not only the South African city he lived in but also of an extraordinarily fertile and idiosyncratic imagination at work.

"Fred Page is an artist who has come in from under the radar to surprise me, as an author, with the range and diversity of his material," says biographer Jeanne Wright. “He was uniquely South African and his passion for the city he chose to live in revealed not only the imaginative world of his creative life as a painter, but also the poetic and fantastical side of life in Port Elizabeth as he perceived it.”

During an interview in 1992, Fred Page had this to say about his work: “art people, especially critics try to read deep meanings into what they see in my work. There are no deep meanings.”

The Ringmaster of the Imagination is produced and printed entirely in Port Elizabeth. It is available in soft cover and has 300 works fully illustrated in colour accompanied by an explanatory text. For more information visit