I’ve been thinking a lot about my teachers lately, and especially those who taught me art at university. I arrived in my first year surrounded by fellow students who had all studied art at school. As it turned out, this was something of an advantage. I was raw and up for it. But I struggled, smudging my way through pencil drawings of still life, being flummoxed by cross hatching, battling with proportion, flawed by life drawing but loving art history as it was idiosyncratically presented by each of our lecturers- one who loved the Renaissance and “extremely attenuated limbs”, another who idolised Rauschenberg and the Abstract Expressionists, and the late Dick Leigh who loved Monet, Matisse, Bonnard; painters who he spoke of with a gentle passion that could only be contagious. For still life I kept a plate of mussels in our digs fridge for a month or two, as I wrestled with paint and colour. But Dick lLeigh pronounced them “too visceral”. I needed to use my head more. I painted the Maritzburg station, first charcoal drawings in situ, then a muted atmospheric study and then for my exam a large expressionist slashing evokation, that the Rauschenberg fan pronounced as “visual diorhoea” but in the end it’s not these comments that remain but rather just a few that illuminated a pathway. After endless drawings of bottles, glasses, vases trying to find cylinders, spheres, cones, there came a still life class where Dick Leigh changed the imperative, and for me, for good. “Draw the strangeness of things, he said. If it bulges, make it bulge. Find the strange shapes of light and shadow.” Suddenly it wasn’t about proportion and ideal form; it was all about perception.
Then there were sketchbooks we were supposed to fill. One day Dick Leigh came into my cubicle and I had put up some small colour acrylic studies of interiors of our digs, studies for paintings. “But those are drawings!” he said, and he loved them. Then I understood that a sketchbook was where I could develop my own language, in any medium, in any format.