I was born in Morija, Lesotho to a French Missionary family on my Mother’s side and an Irish family on my Father’s side.
I grew up watching my Mother paint. She painted predominantly in oil and watercolour, much as I do now. I also watched my great-uncle Georges Duby paint and draw. Here was my first and most profound schooling. My Mother painting, Uncle Georges drawing. Most of what I do now I can trace back to watching these two artists working.
Like most school boys, my exercise books were a mess of drawings. I got through school more by luck than by application. I ended my schooling with two years at the East London School of Art. Later I spent a year at the Kolonyama pottery studio where I learned the skills needed as a potter.
This was followed by a brief period working in my own studio at St. Agnes in Teyateyaneng, Lesotho.
I wrote a letter to Bill Ainslie asking about teaching at the Johannesburg Art Foundation. He replied saying that there was a potential position teaching ceramics at the Alexandra Art Centre in the Alexandra Township in Johannesburg. So began five or six tumultuous years teaching pottery and art in Alex while the country spiralled into chaos around me. This was during the final years of apartheid and Alex was particularly badly hit with desperate fighting between the ANC and Inkatha swirling around the gates, it seemed, of the Art Centre.
When the Art Centre shut down I decided to take up my life as an artist again and so spent a number of years painting and potting. In hindsight my ability to make and sell pottery perhaps got in the way of my pursuing more energetic representation in galleries. As things turned out, I found myself more and more at odds with galleries as a whole. So there followed years of fairly solitary existence as an artist. I did not particularly mind as my evolution as an artist seemed to be growing in its own way.
Sometime around 2004/5 I was approached by Bongi Dhlomo who I had worked with during my years teaching at the Alexandra Art Centre. She was putting together a group of artists to do some work for the New Metro Mall in downtown Johannesburg. I eagerly joined the group and soon we were making massive mosaics to go into the new taxi rank. I met here for the first time the architects from Urban Solutions. These were also the first of my own “public” art pieces and I relished doing them. Working on my own throughout the preceding years had an effect on how fast I worked. I was used to a more contemplative pace in how I approached things. I was, I still am, shocked at how fast people seemed to throw things together. Soon everyone was finished except me. A recurring theme to my life. It was at this time that I was approached by Lewis Levin, an architect/artist who was doing a metal facade to one side of the Mall.
Would I be interested in collaborating on producing a maquette for an art competition for the Constitutional Court? I happily agreed and so there followed a time of exchanging ideas and possibilities. Lewis produced the structure and I engraved with a jeweller’s grinder images to go onto square plates. The maquette was nearly rejected due to its heaviness but, thankfully, was finally accepted.
The making of the sun screens was a huge undertaking, two hundred plus images, all engraved into stainless steel. The physical process of engraving was laborious and time consuming. I think I spent a year in total grinding in fine detail, the images. Towards the end I heard the familiar rumblings: “Why is this taking so long?” “If you don’t finish… “ “It will all be torn down.” I just put my head down and carried on working.
Finally the screens were done. I was very happy with how they turned out. The general reaction was, I think good, if somewhat bemused. I noticed that tours around the Court seemed to avoid going past the screens. There were always people looking at the screens and I took great pleasure in seeing people peering at the engraved images.
Eventually, mentally shrugging, I went back to my life as an artist, slowly and painstakingly following images and processes as they occurred in my studio. My relationship with galleries seemed as unproductive and uneasy as always.
When a friend of mine in Lesotho suggested I return to the country of my birth, I at first hesitated and then decided. Why not? I came back to Morija where I began setting up a studio/centre which eventually became the Morija Arts Centre. Here I began teaching art to local students. I had always dreamed of a studio without walls and so threw the doors open to whoever wanted to come and make art. At this time an artist in Pretoria, Genoveva Fernandez, also married to the Spanish Ambassador there, came to the studio and declared right away, that she wanted to become involved. So began an incredible collaboration with Genoveva and others from the embassies in Pretoria. They would come down with car loads of art materials and for a few days local students would indulge in a feast of art making. Soon the students became too many in number for the Art Centre and we began taking the art activities directly to the schools.
Around this time Armand phone and asked If I would like him to become my agent to bring my art making back to the galleries in Johannesburg and further afield. I quickly agreed and Armand began the difficult task of trying to make sense of my rambling and somewhat chaotic “career” as an artist. This exhibition is a direct result of his patient and persistent encouragement. I hope that it will be worth his while. I know definitely that his involvement has breathed new life into my own understanding of my role as an artist.