Monday, December 12, 2011

True to Form 
collecting inspiration to shape Bill Hart's biography 

excerpt from "Soon the Moon", 2009

This blog has always been intended as a source of information & memories that surround Bill Hart. For you, the reader, to follow my journey and share a glimpse some of the amazing things I've discovered so far about this otherwise mysterious man.

As 2012 dawns upon us, I feel more aware of the choices I will have to face in making this book. One obstacle is returning to South Africa, specifically Johannesburg, a complicated affair if without the support of an artist residency. A pending application for the Bag Factory in Johannesburg could be the ticket to complete the research regarding Bill's life, however, while currently in limbo with few options, I must consider the alternatives. As one friend stated: "There are more then one way to skin a cat" -- mieeouw!

One way to bide time before the next voyage au afrique du sud is to actually START WRITING THE BOOK. I've been thinking...far too much...about the formatting and lay-out of the book. I want to give justice to Bill's artwork and the style of the comic has to have something of a retro 60's feel... It's very difficult for me to even make a little sketch without knowing just what kind of paper it will be printed on!

While searching for inspiration, I was introduced to Cyril Pedrous, who wrote & illustrated a graphic novel about his grandfather's life in Portugal, the book is simply titled "Portugal". His work reminded me that there is a certain level of consciousness in the dosis of auto-biography narrative when writing about influencial family members...

Excerpt from an interview with Cyril Pedrous in ZozoLala (read the full interview here):  

In hoeverre is Autobio autobiografisch?
...ik neem telkens een echte situatie als uitgangspunt, om er dan een aantal zaken aan toe te voegen of te vermengen met de gangbare clichés. En ik sta mezelf ook toe om te liegen! Het moet grappig zijn, dus ik vergroot soms wel het een en ander uit. (lacht)

Cyril concludes that thought with a witty:

Allez, het gaat hier over mijn eigen ervaringen en besognes. Ik begrijp niet dat ze dit opvatten als iets serieus. Bizar. We nemen onszelf toch niet al te serieus, hoop ik? 

A sense of humour is obviously very important!

Cyril was also very good about documenting his work process which he shared in this video:

Another artist who is currently following his path of family roots his JP Kalonji, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in Grahamstown, SA during the National Arts Festival. It took us a few days to figure out that we were both on a similar endeavor which ultimately gave us little time to compare notes, as it were, on how each story would unravel.

JP has a very strong graphic technique which I admire for it's simplicity and ease. He uses graphite black pencils and special brush-pens from Japan but that's besides the point! JP has something likeable to comics superstar Will Eisner, by excluding standardized panels and letting the drawings overlap and feel the flow of the story.

African Suite, JP Kalonji
On our last night in Grahamstown, I took the opportunity to visit my aunt's long-time friend, Erin, who had been very welcoming to me at the beginning of my stay there. She didn't mind at all that I wanted to bring two friends along to her house for our last supper in South Africa...

the best lighting was in Erin's kitchen
Later, JP and I shared the 2 bottles of wine that we had brought with us, while Erin searched the house for Bill's artwork, which was given to her at some point or another by Bill himself. I took some photographs but insisted that Erin keep the artwork at her house, as it would have been quite awkward for me to take those pieces back to the Netherlands with me.

All the while I couldn't help but think that I had kidnapped JP, exposing him to real South African family vibes! During our dinner, I received many text messages from the Co/Mix team asking me where was JP!...Sorry guys, this was something that had to be done.

Now it's time to crack the whip and consider the narrative of my comic about Bill Hart: how much auto-bio is permitted in such a book, I wonder?


Sunday, November 13, 2011

daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, wife, artist & rebel
1931 - 2011

Eileen departed from life in the night of May 29th, 2011.

Her daughter and granddaughter were already in bed and the lights were low. Eileen rests her cigarette in the ashtray. She stands up from her chair next to the sliding glass doors of their cottage. She hesitates slightly under the intense pain in her legs. Eileen needed to drink something other then wine to digest her many painkillers.

When Eileen reached the kitchen, leaning on her crutch and moving with baby steps, Death took her from the shadows. On the mantelpiece, the cigarette burned peacefully in the ashtray coupled with half a glass of wine. Eileen was granted 80 years of life and an immediate decease, sans wine, sans song...

Omar 1048 - 1131 
The poem above occurred apt to me and I think Eileen would have agreed. Before we die, let us sing and enjoy, so our spirit will be sans End...

The poem is derived from one of Eileen´s remaining possessions in life: a leather-bound pocket-sized book of poetry by Omar Khayyam. A unique treasure, soft to touch and worn with age.

The inside cover is signed E.D. Banks, April 7th 1925, which would indicate that it once belonged to Bill´s biological mother, Edith Banks. The circumstance surrounding the book otherwise, is a mystery.

RUBAIYAT of OMAR KHAYYAM, Fitzgerald translation

Eileen Barnes Biography (abridged!)

St. Ives, Cornwall, England, 2011
Eileen spent two summers catering to tourists on the remote and beautiful shores of St.Ives, Cornwall. It didn't matter if she was young and ambitious, there were tables to clear and floors to sweep!

It is here, in the quaint fishermen village, that Eileen met Bill. A place where many artists had found solace after the damage of WWII on the rest of England. 

Bill and Eileen were married in a heartbeat and she was bold enough to move to South Africa, far away from her British upbringing.

Eileen let go off her ambitions to became an artist with the Rambert Ballet Company, she had an opportunity to travel with the London dancers as a seamstress. Instead, she was about to do something unheard of, something completely different: she was about to follow her love to foreign lands.

As for Bill, he was going home to Johannesburg with a new bride and babe. His heart triumphed, he was about to embark on his path to success as an acclaimed artist.

Living alongside Bill was certainly not an easy task for Eileen. Their marriage was rocky at best as Bill's career took precedence. Eileen's role was to be the wife and mother, although I'm sure she felt reminded that she was an immigrant above all.

What I know of Eileen is that she fought for emancipation and feminism; she wasn't afraid to smoke cigarettes at the dining table (when it was not tolerated by the host she accidentally broke a crystal glass!) and she never considered herself a South African, even after living in the country some 60 odd years.

We will really miss that argumentative, opinionated, stubborn personality. Her life may not have been an easy one, but her courage, Cockney humour and stoic strength was undeniable!

Eileen, circa 1981, home in Johannesburg, South Africa

Thursday, May 26, 2011

op soek na Bill Hart in die Johannesburg Art Gallery

Please let me know where I can find a copy!
Monday April 11th, 2011

Scurry along the side streets. The glare of the sun hits bleaks your view but still you don't look down at one week's worth of neglected garbage from the Pikitup strike.

You duck into Joubert Park and find solice in the Johannesburg Art Gallery. You are greeted by the terribly witty and charming Jo Burger, Head Librian. 

Below the gallery rooms, you will find a goldmine of information all relevant to South African art history. Certainly more then the 5 books at Centraal Bibliotheek, Amsterdam -- you scoff!

This one called Polly Street, the Story of an Art Centre -- there's a book you haven't seen before. Wasn't this the formally known Jubliee Center, where Bill once worked? Surely...during the years of Apartheid?

Jo hustles the shelves and comes up with the original issues of ARTLOOK magazine. At her suggestion, you spend some time scanning...

ARTLOOK 18 May 1968. Registered at the GPO as a Newspaper, 30c

Jo has now supplied you with carbon copies of every possible article with the words "Bill Hart" in it. Some of the books which linger in your memory are:

- Land & Lives, a Story of Early Black Artists by Elza Miles
- Art & Artists of South Africa by Esmé Berman
- Contemporary African Art in South Africa by EJ de Jager
- Dictionary of South African Painters & Sculptors by Cecil Skotnes

Would you have ever found these books without Jo's help??

outside the paradise of books
reality struck
There are plenty of other books that need your attention, but for now it's back on the streets of the smelly CBD.

Of course you don't leave without signing the guestbook, copying some of your archive files into the library computer and feeling quite proud, because:

"the Johannesburg Art Gallery now holds a file on Bill Hart"

Many hearfelt thanks to Jo Burger and the Johannesburg Art Gallery for helping us define the search for Bill Hart.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Saturday April 9, 2011 : a visit to Dr John and Sasa Mosendane in Soweto

The photograph above left was retrieved from Bill's cut + paste portfolio and appears to have been taken in Mosendane's garden some 30 years ago. The photograph on the left depicts the same garden today... not much has changed at first glance although Bill's piece is faded substanially from outdoor wear. The darlings in the old photo are: Msindi, Thabo and Tshinakaho, now grown into beautiful, successful women.

I was particularly interested in meeting Dr Mosendane, having understood that he is still a prominant citizen of Soweto. Perhaps one of the few people to continue living in a township once he had gained fortune in his medical practice. This shows endurance and dedication, well respected attributes in times of oppression.

Bill, I imagine, must've been equally proud of the fact that Dr Mosendane had commissioned him to do this garden relief and two tower sculptures, which flank a rounded window in the living room.

I had asked Dr Mosendane if Bill had ever invited him to the Hart House for a sunday evening film & braai (as Bill had often done). Dr Mosendane admitted that he had been invited once but for one reason or another wasn't able to go. I couldn't help but wonder if a friendship was pending between these two men and if Mosendane had been there on said day their relationship would've changed in any way.

Regardless, Bill's work is featured in Mosendane's extensive South African art collection which includes artists such as Edoardo VillaGerard Sekoto and Lucky Sibiya.

Dr Mosendane his still retains connections with some of the remaining artists (whom active during times of Apartheid) and he is familiar with Linda Goodman, once Bill's main agent in the art world.

signed L.Sibiya, collection Mosendane

Many thanks to Dr Mosendane & his lovely wife
for sharing their wealth of culture and history.

...oops! I almost forgot this l'il beauty !

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bill Hart played "Flank"  1946  -  1947

 Thursday April 14th 2011

One of Bill's most favourite things in the world: RUGBY!

I knew that he had attended the Parktown Boys High School and a drive down to Auckland Park to visit the school proved to be worth the effort!

Thanks to the Parktown Head Coach, Mr.R, I was able to obtain copies of the rugby team photographs where a young William Hart shows his grubby elbows.

Mr.R simply removed the photographs from the wall of the school gymnasium and gave them to me to get them scanned and xeroxed down the road..!

Mr. R: you're the best!

Historical Background of the Parktown Boys (as cited on their website):

The origins of Parktown Boys' High School may be traced back to 1920 when the school was established on a site now occupied by the SABC in Auckland Park, Johannesburg.  In 1923 the present school was founded in Wellington Road, the original building now being a National Monument.  Past Parktonians have acquitted themselves as leaders of commerce, renowned academics and international sportsmen.

hmmm...they seemed to have forgotten to mention ARTISTS??

For more information on Parktown Boys go to:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER .... at least in human years


Bill Hart's mural is monitored 24/7 by security cameras
From what I can gather, this mural in Kimberely is Bill's last surviving public artwork. It was commissioned by Hanns Bergs (see previous blog) for the De Beers diamond sorting building located in Kimberley and erected in 1974. Here it stands in it's full glory: 5 x 10 meters, resulting in 60 panels of sheer brilliance! Modelled in clay and cast in plaster, it is a fairly durable material (although disasterous if it ever were to fall from the wall!).

Bill's artwork always had a sense of timelessness about it: he would mold the shapes of his sculptures not with precision, instead, he welcomed imperfections. He would allow scrapes and jagged edges which would represent the weathered appeal of objects over space and time. It is for this reason that Bill's artwork, and I refer to this one in particular, stands proud and undarnished from the past 37 years.

setting up the panels for construction of the mural
 Bill is aided by friend & fellow artist, Keith Alexander

Bill models the clay to create his signature shapes

detail of the finished product

Hanns once told me a funny antidote about this mural:

   When Bill and Keith were finally assembling the enormous mural on site in Kimberley, I often went to supervise the building construction and watched Bill and Keith labour to lift up the heavy panels which were then fixed to the concrete wall. When I arrived on this day, I had the gut feeling that the mural was somehow smaller then Bill had promised and so after much discussion, Bill finished the argument by saying that as an artist he was entitled to change his mind and make the mural smaller!  "OK", I said, "but then we will will have to reduce the payment due to you!" He didn't like that at all and we finally agreed that the mural looked great and suited the design of the building.
   After some years, we all had a drink at my house when I showed Bill the maquette of the mural, which was decidedly longer than the mural in Kimberley. Bill then admitted that he and Keith had "f...d" up and had made the mural some 6 panels shorter and they were desparately hoping I wouldn't notice! Needless to say, we opened another bottle of wine and had a good laugh about the whole thing.

A short video pan of the building, designed with slanted & tinted windows to aid the sorting of precious diamonds. But the gem I admire most appears at the end of this clip...

a BIG THANKS to Hanns and the people of HOH who allowed me
to touch some REAL diamonds and spend time with Bill's mural.

Friday, April 8, 2011

On Tuesday last, Thabo & I decided to venture into the neighbourhood where my grandparents once owned some property, where my mum grew up on 3 Ayr Road in Atholl, Sandton, Johannesburg. 
I wanted to go there to see how the property had developped, who lives there now and if there were any remenants from the house my grandfather had designed. We travelled there by the standard cheap taxis (once known as KAFFIR taxis), ending up in a park where we had to squeeze through a gate and walk along the highway to the off-ramp...then another 30min trek up and down the hilly area called Atholl, finally to arrive at 3 Ayr Road, the last place I had seen my grandfather before his death in 2006.

enterance to 3 Ayr Road, the way it looked as I last saw it in 2001

as it stands today, 3 Ayr Road, surrounded by high security walls

To my surprise, the property had been split into 2 houses: 3A and 3B Ayr Road. I rang the doorbell at both and the domestic workers told me that the owners would be back shortly. Thabo & I waited outside the properties (that is to say outside the gates), only to discover that someone had pressed the "panic button" on us and so arrived the big black security truck with 2 big black men--armed with RIFLES--who stepped out of the truck to inform us: "we will use maximum force to remove you from this property", followed by: "I AM THE COMMANDER OF THIS AREA". I tried to explain the situation, but clearly we were without a car--no quick getaways--and these gorillas were not prepared to listen to any reasonable account of why we were there. So we up and left, walking down the path, me cursing under my breath, Thabo laughing from the absurdity of it all.
Just a few meters into our journey out of Athol, I realized that big black security truck was actually FOLLOWING us! We turned in disgust and demanded to know why they insisted on following us, and if they wanted us to leave so much, why not give us a lift to the nearest main road? They didn't give us any clear answer but instead told us to wait where we stood and they would come back to escort us out. Once they drove away, Thabo and I tried desparately to hail down any car which drove past. Finally one car stopped, 2 darkies in a beat-up toyota. We jumped in, and not a second to soon!--the security gorillas were driving in the opposite direction looking for us! We ducked our heads and breathed in a sigh of relief, knowing we had made our quick get-away afterall.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

André and Charles reminisce after a superb lunch

Saturday February 19, 2011 : Lunch with André & Val van Vuuren in Riebeek Kasteel, Western Cape

It was another scorcher as my father and I stepped into the car to travel an hour out of Cape Town to the house where André and Val now reside. It was clear that we were driving into the winelands, every intersection had a few locals selling off their access grapes: white, pink & red. Charles just waved , "nie vandag baas".

Previously the van Vuuren's lived in Jo'burg and were always in close proximity to Bill's house/studio in Sandton. André admits that Bill was one of his greatest influences and friends, encouraging André to continue in all his artistic endevours. André then dug into his archives and found an interview that Bill had conducted. The last question in particular made me chuckle (was Bill just fishing for compliments?) :

ARTLOOK, August 1971
André van Vuuren interviewed by Bill Hart

I was very pleased to find out that Val & André own one of the multiples of Tension Tower. When I asked André about how Bill might have acquired the commission, he responded that it was Linda Goodman, owner of the Goodman Gallery and Bill's longest running gallerist who had offered him the task. Linda is connected in the medical field as members of her family are (or were) practising doctors.

"Tension Tower" Bill Hart (date unknown)
André is presently exhibiting his work in Johannesburg at Graham's Fine Art Gallery

"Wildflowers" André van Vuuren, 2010
Oil on Canvas, 60 x 70 cm

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

PULL UP A CHAIR, acrylic & ink on paper, copyright M.Machèn, Feb 2011
 I once fell in love with a woman with a wooden leg and a tattoo on her chest. I know that sounds strange but it's true. I must have been 17 at the time, I was traveling down to see my grandma and grandpa in the Eastern Transvaal, they had a citrus farm there. It was an overnight journey by train. I used to smoke American Pall Mall unfiltered cigarettes, not many, just enough to make me look sophisicated. I really fancied myself by that stage. I also started drinking beer and had bought myself a pinstriped suit...very flash! I got into the train and ended up in a compartment by myself . It was quite late so I went to the saloon and had a drink, there was one other girl...well she wasn't really a girl, she was about 30 years old. I went up to her and asked if she would mind if I shared her table and she said "Certainly, sit down". We started talking and playing matches (that's when you guess how many matches are in the other's fist)...then we started playing for drinks and I think she deliberately let me win a few rounds because at the end she had bought me several beers... then she got up to go and I realized I hadn't ordered bedding for my compartment so she said: "Why don't you stay with me tonight?"...that's when I found out about the tattoo. The next morning bright and early I got my luggage and left the train. I kissed my grandma and took my grandpa's hand and all of a sudden I heard the lady shout down to me: "Goodbye, darling!" and my grandma said "Who's that?" and my grandpa smiled and I told them: "Well that's my Biology teacher. She is traveling to Mozambique and we meet on the train and we just had a long talk about my schoolwork". Grandma looked at me and grandpa looked at me and they looked at each other and they didn't say a word.

Monday, January 17, 2011

In August 1971, the Medical Chronicle announced:

In his total grasp of the Syndol [tablettes] briefing, Bill Hart has seemingly torn aside the visible exterior world to reveal the inner, invisible world of Modern Man.

Bill Hart was awarded the commission to interpret the "tensions" of "Modern Man" in a multiple sculpture.

The article concludes with:

Med-National's Tension Tower - a statement of tension but also an object of pleasurable contemplation.


These two photographs were later super-imposed to create an advertisement for Syndol. I recovered the negetives and had them professionally scanned.

With technology today, it wouldn't be too difficult to re-create this exciting medical moment...!

featuring TENSION TOWER by Bill Hart

study for sculpture depicting Bill Hart infront of his own work
First signs of life in the Greatmore Studios..!
I'm reluctant to start any comics strip stories without having spoken to a few key people from Bill's past. I would like to decifer what the main events were that helped shape his life.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Hanns Bergs, architect of de Beers building in Kimberley

Bill Hart, model for de Beers relief mural, circa 1970