The Ron Wilson Series

Tributes to Great South African Artists

First tribute in the series:

authentic BattissSignature

Page update December 22, 2014


Walter Whall Battiss. Born January 6th, 1906 - died August 20th, 1982.
Awarded an honorary D Litt et Phil degree in recognition of his contribution to the development of art appreciation in South Africa. (UNISA).

House in the Soutpansberg
Walter Battiss "House in the Soutpansberg"


As Murray Schoonraad writes - the only support came from his mother. His father was quite sports mad and unsympathetic.
Among his friends Walter was the only one interested in art and the fact that he was English-speaking in a pre-dominantly
Afrikaans community led him to a sense of isolation. "As a child I felt myself alone and I am still, because I know things
and must hide things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know. Loneliness doesn't
come from having no people about me, but from being unable to communicate things that seem important to oneself, or from
holding certain views which others find inadmissible."

The conflict in Battiss, this sense of division and loneliness, caused him to to often alternate between fantasy and reality
and there was a persistent striving to bridge the gap between the two.

Walter Battiss - Menlo Park

Walter Battiss "Menlo Park"

Picasso, Cezanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh but also the rock art of early man - Bushman paintings, primitive art. "I was trying to find out whatthe art was
before the Europeans came,take what I could from it, change it and build upon it. People thought all I was doing was imitating the Busmen or just
extending Bushman art or prehistoric art, but that was not what I was getting at at all." Early rock artists always placed their human figures and animals in
juxtaposition to each other and yet, as in Battiss paintings there is a feeling of depth. "The Bushman artists told me that they made shapes 'just for fun' -
scientists and artists say that all the engravings on rocks MUST have meanings but the Bushmen made simple shapes and forms much as we make doodles..."

In 1949 Battiss met Picasso in Paris. This meeting was one of the most memorable moments of his life. Battiss gave Picasso a copy of his book
"Artists of the Rocks" and Picasso reciprocated with a lithograph of a bull. Picasso evidently asked him "Tell me now Battiss, am I as good as
your Bushman artists?"

Walter Battiss

Battiss: The camera says 'behold how well I copy.' And the brush replies 'but I am greater, I create.'
"The solution came to me while I was in Europe. I suddenly found that European artists like Matisse, Picasso and Braque and all the others
were using forms from Africa - and had pilfered something that belonged to us. No, they were not stealing the stuff, they were using rightly
what was on the earth and rightly what we should use. I think an artist should use what is about him, what he finds there, and he should use it
like a European." He was the first South Africa artist to incorporate the art of early man in his contemporary art.

Source: Murray Schoonraad "Walter Battiss C. Struik Publishers 1976 Also Unisa Art Gallery Catalogue by Karin Skawran 1989

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