Born Izak Benjamin de Villiers in 1951, the artist grew up in Pretoria, a member of a typical middle class Afrikaner family.  His father was a senior government official.  Zak was sent to Sunday school and Volksspele, belonged to the Voortrekker movement, and signed up as a member of the Nationalist Party Youth Movement. 

The discrepancies between the Christian values taught at church and the policies of the Nationalist government, and their expression in the status-seeking materialist Afrikaner middle class made him rebel against his background, and drop out of university where he was studying Building Management. 

After doing various jobs (clerk in a municipal office, railway stoker, fitter on a construction site) and living in Europe for a year, he returned to University and completed a BA Fine Arts degree. In his final year he won the New Signatures Award for Graphics. Benjamin taught art from time to time, privately and at various institutions. Since 1991 he has been able to work as an artist full-time. His work is represented in several collections.

In the mid nineteen-eighties, Benjamin experienced a profound religious conversion that led to his friendship with sculptor Gert Swart. Together they struggle to discover what it means to make contemporary art as Christians, and have collaborated in various projects.

Since 1992 the artist has signed his work Zak Benjamin, a shortened version of his full name.

Zak makes use of a very personal iconography in his characteristic fantasy paintings. Throughout his career, he has also made works that comment upon the social fabric of our time. In these he uses images culled from everyday life. His frustration with lingering Apartheid in the Dutch Reformed Church and the challenges facing Christians in post-Apartheid South Africa provide themes for some of his work.

During the early 1990's, Zak experienced an increasing awkwardness when using his right hand. The diagnosis was Parkinson's Syndrome. As the disease progresses, he finds it more and more difficult to produce work. At present, he is able to work for a limited time some days, and most days not at all. In January  2008 Zak had an operation to implant a deep-brain stimulator, a device that gave him back some of his ability to function normally. His Parkinson's is not cured, however, but the respite has enabled him to continue working, albeit at a slow pace.

The artist married his wife Erna Buber-deVilliers in 1988. They live in Vereeniging, South Africa. They have two daughters, two granddaughters and a grandson.
ZAK BENJAMIN
Painter and Printmaker
Artist's CV
Christians and The Arts In South Africa:
A MANIFESTO
Publications
Calenbourne, Michael Brothers in the arts Pretoria News, July 26,1979

Announcement of exhibition at St Mary's DSG, Pretoria News, 1986

Vorster, Anna Die Simboliek in die Skilderye en Tekeninge van Izak de Villiers South African Arts Calendar, Autumn 1986 Vol 10 No 4

Naudé, Charl-Pierre Dié Christelike kuns is beslis nog lank nie uitgedien Beeld, Woensdag, 20 Januarie 1993

Bekende kunstenaar skilder onder nuwe naam Vaalweekblad, 20 Augustus 1993

Du Toit, Danie Christus in die Kunste LIG, Augustus & September uitgawes, 2007 and Come Dine - a painting by Zak Benjamin, PAM Bulletin, 9 April 1999

Buber, Erna Long, lonely, difficult obedience to the King Cardus Comment, May 2010; and That you may see image meditation, Oogsalf van Zak Benjamin, Artway, 22 Augustus 2010





What some have said about Zak and his work:

Handwritten Testiomonial from Professor Walter Battiss, 1979

Professor Calvin Seerveld

Professor Keith Dietrich

Artist's wife