Doug's Background and History
I was born on 15th October 1938 in Krugersdorp, an old gold mining town near Johannesburg, South Africa. My father was a mine manager, a frustrated naturalist and a water colour artist. He died unfulfilled and bitter after a long battle with clogged arteries.
My mother is in her 80's and is still active in the floral art world. She exhibits and lectures internationally. She is a pillar of strength following many tragedies and hardships yet she always maintains that every past year of her life has been the best. Her indomitable spirit is a great inspiration to me.
A vital part of my childhood was spent on a huge citrus and mixed farming enterprise, owned by the Mining Company which my Father asked to manage when he could stand the mines no longer. His job was to turn around the losses within 5 years to make a profit. He nearly made it. After that at the age of eleven it was back to the mines after an abortive attempt by my parents to go it alone farming.
Here I learnt to speak fluent Swazi as the farm was near Swaziland and the locals spoke little English. It was here too that I developed a deep love and understanding of the Bantu people amongst whom I spent vital formative years. I am drawn to paint them and to feel for them when they suffer at the hands of Dictators and exploiters. The years on the farm had to be some of my happiest spent in a beautiful sub tropical farming valley called Barberton.
My love of strong colours, bold forms and contrast stems directly from an Africa whose people are rich in colour and diversity. It is surely the strong bright light which demands a reaction.
As a child I felt lost and buffeted in a world which was cruel to me. I became a loner as a means of escaping bullying. Escape was difficult when at the age of seven I was sent to boarding school. An acute sensitivity and an awareness of the world about me were weaknesses to be preyed upon by thick skinned, insensitive, unseeing peers who hunted in packs and hounded you all the more, the more you suffered.
Inner strength and determination to eclipse them all in the end prevailed. You can see why I have a go it alone mentality. I have a fear of being bent and moulded by pack conformism thereby losing my individuality and fountain of creativity. That is why I am suspicious of formal education in art. My isolation is a great disadvantage in getting my work accepted but a great advantage in preserving my philosophy and style.
Teens to 20
Back at the gold mines, Dad took badly to going underground. His health was starting to suffer. He was a heavy smoker. He was not an alcoholic but he enjoyed a whisky or two or three. The age of healthy food was not upon us. Even then, he probably would have been one of those who could not give up fatty foods, cheese, booze and cigarettes.
He suffered a major thrombosis at the end of my second last year of high school (standard 9). I did not realise what hit me and at first could not understand why my world fell apart as I was not close to my father. But I lost all concentration and drifted into semi-delinquency.
For some years after that my mother had to be the breadwinner. Eventually she got very good at it but not before we were on our knees financially only saved by the love and kindness of a few relatives.
I drifted through school and then through one then a second failed year at University. Half way through that year, I decided that I had wasted enough of my parents money and left to get a job. Civil Engineering was not for me even though I loved making things and had been an inveterate toy dam builder, model maker and would be inventor from as early as I can remember. Because I exhibited manual dexterity coupled with intelligence, it was thought I should go into engineering, nobody coupled my sensitivity, my interest in people with my manual skills. If they had they might have come up art as a career. But in my parent's world, Art was not even on the starting line as a career for a me.
All through this time, my greatest love was the study of people, particularly their minds and how their faces and bodies are shaped by the way they think. I also avidly studied animals and insects for hours on end and could mimic the sounds of every animal in the farmyard and many beyond. I had a particularly good cocks crow. When my voice broke I was quite upset that my cock crow was gone for good.
My father by this time had left the mines and got a job in an office. We had moved to a posh suburb called Melrose in Johannesburg. I was about nineteen and was working for the Central News Agency. I was still totally mixed up and growing up hormones were playing havoc with my sanity. Yes I was fairly unstable but not in an aggressive way. The world and the people in it were proving to be difficult to understand and I was having difficulty coming to terms with it mentally. Mind you, I had a good well paid job with a nice car yet I was dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Actually first I was given too much responsibility then I earned too much money as a salesman. Nothing seemed to be right, yet by other kids standards, I was doing well.
The First Painting
One day at home I felt a welling up inside me. I don't know where it came from but my head filled with colour; explosive colour. I just had to let it out of my head. My father's oil paints which he didn't use were to hand. He had some big brushes. I went to the garage with desperate urgency to find some hardboard on which to paint I knew not what. I primed it impatiently with white undercoat. I dried it in the sun and before it was dry, I attacked it with the paint. Gushes of yellow blue and white paint burst forth. That is how my first painting happened.
By and bye over a few years, I joined the artistic community in Hilbrow. Already the racial lines were blurring. I could not see how a fellow black artist obviously more accomplished than myself should not be treated as an equal.
Slowly but surely I was driven by the twin forces of the pull of ambition to go to the centre of the world - London - to seek my artistic fortune and the push of the alienating forces of Apartheid which frowned on close friendship with people of other races. There was nothing left for me in South Africa. I had to go and bought a one way ticket and flew out at the end of October 1961.
I have few regrets in my life. One is that by choice I left with not a soul to see me off, not even my parents. They felt very wounded by my rejection of them. I regret hurting them so, but I was so screwed up I could not help myself. I am thankful that life has mellowed and strengthened me and given me a caring, loving wife and children. I have also been forgiven by my mother for my cruel behaviour.
I left my art in the safekeeping of my parents. Sadly all but a handful have been trashed. That is all I deserve I suppose. My mother has most of the them. My cousin Wren had 3 or so if he hasn't trashed them and someone bought one from me at my one and only exhibition at the first open air art exhibition at Joubert Park in April 1961 called "Artists Under the Sun"
That wonderful person was Mrs Bullen-Smith who lived at Park Road, Grahamstown. The painting was number 35 and it was called "Gentle Optimism and Pessimism". It was painted in March 1961
London Here I Come (History Page 2)