Michael Madimetja Teffo was born in 1957 in the Pretoria township of Lady Selborne. The Township of Lady Selborne was destroyed shortly after his birth. Teffo went to school in Hammanskraal up to Standard 8 before leaving to focus on his artwork. He received no formal art training, but he was interested in art from a young age, sculpting in Marula wood with a pen knife as a child. By the time of his first solo exhibition, held at the Upper Gallery of the South African Association of Arts in May 1978, he lived with his brother in Soshanguve, formerly known as Mabopane East.
At the beginning of his early career, Americans and Australian diplomats attended his exhibitions and purchased his work. His first solo exhibition featured 63 works of sculpture and pencil drawings, 14 of which sold in the first three days. In 1978, he told a Pretoria News reporter that he had not worked in oil and watercolours yet because ‘An artist must know how to draw first. The pencil is most important. You must know how to apply it.’
From 1977, Teffo participated in group and solo exhibitions in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Potchefstroom in the North West Province. In 1980, he exhibited pen and ink drawings in New York at the Nassau County Black History Museum, and he received praise for the moving dramatic quality of his images and his expressive statements on human bonding and affection. He later worked with linocuts and other graphics as well as watercolours and mixed media, for which he received criticism in a 1981 review for having ‘crowded too much symbolic subject matter’ into his work.
In 1981, the plot of land on which Teffo had established a studio three years earlier was sold. He told a reporter that the Group Areas Act, combined with a shortage of housing and lack of suitable space in the townships, made settling down in an art career difficult for black artists. The South African Association of Arts assisted him in relocating to a studio at the Green Dome.
Teffo served on the judging panel of the Vlerkdans Art Competition at Pretoria’s State Theatre Art Gallery in March 1999, as well as the panel for the Sasol New Signatures competition in Pretoria in July 2001. In May and June of 2009 Teffo, along with Andre Naude, Daniel Mosako, Marinda du Toit and others, exhibited at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein. In April 2011 he exhibited with several other artists, including Walter Battiss, Carl Buchner, Jan van der Merwe and Anna Vorster, at Pretoria’s Brooklyn Theatre in Menlo Park. The University of Pretoria’s sculpture collection includes works by Teffo.
- ‘I want to go deep into art, to challenge it. Abstract art is multi-form. It can range from abstract expressionism to neo-realism, to reveal a situation real for us, and sometimes overtake us. Artists are “oneself onlookers”. Art reveals.’ (1978)
- ‘Art is something in which we share feelings and interests. It has no truthful meaning or end.’ (1978)
Calenborne, M. (1978) ‘Unspoilt Art’, Pretoria News 23 May, p.17.|Town reporter (1980) ‘Teffo’s work praised in America’, Pretoria News 24 November.|Konya, P. (1981) ‘Versatile Teffo’, Pretoria News 5 February.|Staff reporter (1981) ‘Pretoria artists in need of studios’, Pretoria news 24 June.|South African Association of Arts (1978), SA Arts Calendar vol. 3, no. 4, May.|South African Association of Arts (1981), SA Arts Calendar vol. 6, no. 1 and 2, February/March.|SA Art Times (2011) ‘Gallery Guide’ April, p.23. Available on issuu.com. [Accessed 14 April 2015]|SA Art Times (2009) ‘South African Art Gallery Show Listings June 2009’, June, p.4. Available on issuu.com. [Accessed 14 April 2015]|Art Throb (2001) ‘Sasol New Signatures winners announced’, 31 July. Available on www.artthrob.co.za. [Accessed 14 April 2015]|University of Pretoria, ‘Museums & Collections: The University of Pretoria Art Collection’. Available on www.up.ac.za. [Accessed 14 April 2015] |Artslink.co.zo (1999) ‘Vlerkdans Art Competition’ media release, 27 February. Available on www.artlink.co.za. [Accessed 14 April 2015]