I was born in Kenya. I illustrate and write.

My first illustrations were for the first edition of Okot p’Bitek’s widely-acclaimed Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol. Song of Lawino was first published in 1966 by the East African Publishing House, followed by Song of Ocol, both songs being published together in 1967, and reprinted four times before being published by Heinemann in the world-acclaimed African Writers Series (AWS) in 1984. (There are several editions currently available, without my illustrations, including an edition issued by the Waveland Press in 2013).

In 1971 Courtier Fine Art in London published a limited edition of S. T. Coleridge’s masterpiece The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, with my illustrations and calligraphy. The edition soon sold out and is now a collector’s book. This edition is in black and white, but my original conception was in full colour including gold and silver, after the medieval manuscripts that inspired me. Four sets in full colour were completed, one of which included calligraphy.

I have written and re-written, drawn and redrawn Kijana many times, usually in times of change and stress. Kijana was first published by the Graphic Club of South Africa in Johannesburg in 1974 and issued as a limited edition of 250 portfolios silk-screened by Fred Schimmel.                                   

Now, in 2021, coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have produced a new version of Kijana, consisting of two editions with the same text but two similar sets of illustrations, binding both editions myself and limiting the editions to 49 copies of each. (I am considering the possibility of Kijana as an inter-active ebook).

Frank Horley’s art is low-key in line and colour, but charged with emotion and imagery. He is an artist-poet whose art has freshness and great luminosity…” – Dennis Godfrey, The Star 1974

“The stories, which draw their inspiration and metaphor from African life while owing nothing to folklore, are allegorical, reflecting the teller’s concern about the gradual disappearance of primitive Africa. The pictures are superbly executed with a clean, rhythmical line and hauntingly beautiful,” – Raeford Daniel, Rand Daily Mail 1974

Shortly after the first edition of Kijana was published, a prominent family commissioned me to paint a mural in their bathroom in Johannesburg depicting J. R. R. Tolkien’s epic saga of Middle Earth, The Lord of the Rings. I painted in acrylics on wood, completing the work in 1979. It is my only painting. 

“The masterpiece, which was painted piece by piece with acrylic paint on wood panels, shows insight into Tolkien’s imaginary world… By painting each wall a different season with its own colour scheme, Horley very neatly put the main events in the book into a symbolic ring… To honour the sphere of Tolkien’s work, inspired by Celtic folklore, Horley uses painting conventions that we can recognise from medieval manuscripts. Perspective is not three-dimensional as in Post-Renaissance art, but two-dimensional. Foreground, middle-ground and background are shown vertically on top of each other… as in the scenic progression above the sword-crossing  protagonists and the duel between the Black Prince and the Lady Eowin in the main battle scene… But Horley also puts his own mark in this painting to show his connection with Africa by including different animal motifs…” – an extract from Bettie Lambrecht’s article for Vermaak in 2001. 

The Story of Christmas, published in 1980 by the Brenthurst Press, was the result of a collaboration between me and the children of the Montessori Pre-school in Johannesburg. Together we read the story of Christmas from the “New Testament”; the children were asked to draw angels, then to illustrate the story with their own drawings. I collected these drawings, copying and collating them to create a narrative of the Nativity. The final drawings were shown to the children and their comments were included in the book. The Story of Christmas was shown at the International Exhibition of Children’s Books in Vienna in 1982.

In 2000 I completed and published An African Alphabet, a collection of four interlinked alphabets – a conventional alphabet with letters based on African design, a textual alphabet, and two pictorial alphabets that include references in several African languages – 

‘Frank Horley has composed a love poem to his continent in just 26 letters’ – Rina Minervinini, Sawubona 

‘Lateral thought produces a visual alphabet for all Africans’ – Maureen Isaacson, Sunday Independent.

‘The story of the rebirth of Afrika… it adds such words as happiness, joy, abundance, wealth, freedom and development to the vocabulary of the Afrikan dictionary. It challenges us to liberate these words from the chains of colonialism’ – Saul Molobi, “Forewordto An African Alphabet.

An African Alphabet is a work of compelling visual imagery – text and illustrations combine to introduce the alphabet in various African languages. The subtle yet vivid images range across cultures and the natural world, stimulating readers to think and reflect on the world around them and become creative through language – Andries Oliphant

In A Small Garden, published in 2008, my intention was to depict a prehistoric and contemporary Africa, setting 37 original drawings of flora and fauna that mirror digitally printed sand drawings, between an adaptation of the origin myth from Genesis and a random collection of contemporary newspaper headlines. Each book was individually printed and bound, the edition being limited to 42 copies.

And as an appendix I’ve had some Exhibitions – 

Five solo – Donovan Maule Theatre, Nairobi, Kenya (1965) – mainly pastels, wax and linseed oil on paper; Gallery 21 (1984) – water-soluble pencils on paper; Crake (1988) – water-soluble pencils on paper; Association of Arts JHB and Durban (Kijana, 1974). Four group – S A Association of Arts (1973); Lidchi (1982); Pretoria Art Museum 1977); Rand Afrikaans Universiteit (1977). Graphics at all group exhiobitions.


Frank Horley is reachable on frank.horley@gmail.com