South African period to September 1961
During this period, I was obsessed with not using recognisable forms. I wanted to prove everything could be reinterpreted in abstract form using colour to express the missing identity. My work ranged from the simplest virtually blank boards to Pollock type chaotic representations of the world around me.
Typical titles were: Abstract portrait of Sheep and Baby. The colours of the mother were bold, the forms plain all protecting the soft pastels and unformed shape of the lamb. Abstract portrait of The Barn Owl which looked like a Mondrian rip off in his strict geometrical period. And then there was an abstract portrait of my Sister which contained swirls of reds and soft creams expressing her deeply contained fiery nature.
Virtually all of my work at this time was about translating or interpreting the characters of creatures great and small in abstract form with colour having equal work to do in conveying the message.
By the time I left South Africa, I was beginning to be dissatisfied with pure abstraction. I could not put enough meaning into the paintings. I could see more than I could express. I wanted to say more than I could with pure shape and form.
I had a problem. I was a committed non representational artist. Furthermore, I could not draw very well. I had not discovered light and shadow. I refused to be tutored. I was determined to learn my art by trial and error.
I was concerned about being tainted by the establishment. If I went to art school, I would be moulded by their thinking. I wanted to retain my independence. Formal training would inevitably corrupt me. But I was beginning to feel a need to acquire greater graphic skills. I had no skill in painting perspective. At that stage, I had no need of it. I would have to learn the hard way - 30 years later.
Some time during this period, I think it was the Summer of 1960, there was an exhibition in Joubert Park, Johannesburg. Anybody could exhibit. This was my one and only exhibition of my paintings. It was very exciting, as much because of the other artists showing - from all ethnic groups. New horizons opened, new relationships formed across the ethnic divide and this sewed the seeds of my dissatisfaction. I wanted to achieve fame and fortune in London. I wanted to escape from the confrontation between races. I wanted to be free to consort with whom I pleased.
I sold one painting, Number 35, entitled "Gentle Optimism and Pessimism" for about £15 framed. The frame cost about £8. It was not one of my best paintings. It was a bit of a daub using left over paint. It was a sort of abstract landscape. This is the only painting I have ever sold other than to my Mother and it was to Mrs Bullen Smith of Park Road, Grahamstown in April 1961, bless her.
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