I spent the first half of the year in fruitful quest of the landscape. Then I embarked on a bumbling attempt at house renovations, skewered by the Hermanus municipal plans department. I dabbled a bit with watercolours. There were pleasant afternoons spent thus, outdoors, in winter sunlight, looking at the cold Atlantic ocean. But I soon gave up on that too. Then I chanced upon a little box of vintage drawing nibs that I’d bought twenty years ago at Cornelissen and Son, the legendary London art supplies shop.
The delicate old nibs have arcane inscriptions on them, like Globe Pen, Birmingham,England, 5 , or C Brandauer and Co. Oriental Pen, No. 3 or Goode and Co, no 801, London. Used with Rowney Kandahar Indian Ink, these proved to be the thing I was looking for. Ink is emphatic and non-negotiable, no rubbing out. The mark is made, and there it is. Of course, the safe thing is to do it in pencil first, and then ink over it, making corrections as you go and rubbing out any traces of pencil that remain. But the daring thing to do is to charge one’s pen and leap right into it, and this is largely how the recent drawings have proceeded, a combination of observed and imaginary images.
Now, as Norman Mailer once noted, dredging through the swamp of one’s mind can be a risky business. You’re painfully aware of your skills (which may be inadequate,) and your ideas (which may be silly.) It’s a bit of a roller -coaster: Burning buses one day, a vase of flowers the next. Take the detail below. First the Zulu gogo appeared, and later, having watched a clip of a student talking about a Zulu tradition of sending parcels of lightning to foes, I added the mini lightning bolt.
Sometimes there are little dead ends, and it may be a week or so until one knows what to add next. The solution can turn up in the shape of a newspaper picture, or something in an old book, a conversation, a distant memory. The noise of the present can find itself on the same page as the deeply recessed past. There’s no shortage of stuff that may have inflicted itself on the artist’s psyche: Picasso’s sketchbooks, Van Gogh’s reed drawings done in France. Before that, the comics section of the Sunday Express, especially Prince Valiant. All those World War two comic books (Achtung, schweinhund!) Also the illustrated books I grew up with – Like Struwelpeter, Kalulu the Hare, Barbara Tyrell’s Tribal Peoples, and Harry Wolhuter’s Memories of a Game Ranger (with illustrations by C.T. Astley-Maberly.) So I’ll leave you with this , from the Memories of a Game Ranger, depicting the part where Harry Wolhuter gets dragged off by a lion. How gruesome, how exciting! Only ink can do it!