Alternative Press – works by Derek Bauer






Lost in Thought

I really thought I'd got my stuff together. I spent the afternoon fine tuning my speech and basically knew it by heart. I put on a beautiful shirt and my favourite shoes. And then I couldn't read the last two lines. I stood in front of a lot of people and cried quietly. I don't like making people feel uncomfortable and I steer well clear of emotion in public because it's just weird for everyone, especially myself. Despite this, the Derek Bauer Retrospective Exhibition at the South African National Gallery opened on Thursday evening. I don't often tell people about things that I have been involved in because it feels like bragging. But it is with huge honour and enthusiasm that I implore you to give up an hour of your day if you live in Cape Town and go and see this relevant, historical, disturbed, funny and utterly brilliant collection of some of the best drawings and cartoons by artist Derek Bauer, from arguably the cruellest part of our country's history. Take your children. This is an unforgettable history lesson.

With respect to Heidi Erdmann and Andrea Lewis who curated this exhibition.
Rozy Gunn


22 SEPTEMBER - 31 MAY 2018




The Last Decade

I met Derek at a party in 1992. He was working as a cartoonist for the Weekly Mail, the Argus and the Star Newspapers. I don't think it was ever a case of a meeting of true minds – we would continue to squabble about art until the end. He was highly suspicious of Conceptual art and took my interest in it as tantamount to traitorous. He personally refused to be "hoodwinked by a group of talentless charlatans" as he liked to call the so-called cutting-edge. If nothing else, he certainly spoke his mind, which could make him somewhat of a liability at a party or gathering. Other than this minor "elephant in the room" we were inseparable. But it said a lot about his high regard for technical skill and craftsmanship, and his insistence that nothing less than mastery over the discipline of illustration was necessary when it came to using the medium as a tool for his expression. This marriage of content and form was very important to him. And perhaps what sets his best work apart from his peers, was really his astonishing ability to draw combined with a brilliant (and on occasions disturbed) mind. He loved the work of Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman, but less obvious, was his real regard and admiration for Goya and George Grosz.

He had been married to Susan de Villiers, an intellectual force in her own right. She wrote the copy for his book "SA Flambe – and other Recipes for Disaster" which brilliantly contextualised his Cartoons. Their son Harry, was six years old when we met and was a delight in every way – curious, precocious, loving and energetic. Not having actually bothered to formally divorce his first wife, I met Derek when a previous girlfriend was expecting his second child. Under these circumstances my parents were somewhat unenthusiastic about the match. Max was to be his newest son and happily for us, inherited all that was good about Derek, kind, loving, generous, has the hugest heart, hard-working to a fault, and is quietly self-confident, with none of the traits requiring Disaster Management and UN Peace Keeping Forces to be at the ready.

Derek and I were married in 1997 and two little girls followed, Sophie and Olivia. I was taught its rude and boring to talk about your own children so I'll let it suffice that they are locked up at Boarding School in Grahamstown (I hope) and are very nice people. Derek adored all his children and his studio was never out of bounds. He spent endless and patient hours drawing with them and having office chair races, where he'd push them around on his wheeled chair with everyone screaming and hanging on for dear life and going crazy. He loved having the babies in the house and was forever giving them idiotic names and speaking to them in weird accents. His idea of baby-sitting was to drape a baby over his left shoulder and watch the rugby. He was very calm with them. I never witnessed any outdoor sporting activity as such – I remember him once going so far as to say he thought running was uncouth. Derek's idea of sport was watching it on TV and his favourite activity when travelling overseas was to sit in a café and draw people.

Rock Star with a huge heart

People would ask me if he was a "hard" man – the cartoons were certainly violent. On the contrary – he had a huge heart, spoke in low tones and he always made a point of telling his sons how wonderful and clever their mothers were. I never heard him speak badly of, or complain about his ex-wives to his children. He was never petty about money either. He did on one occasion relinquish a friendship over a seemingly insignificant incident, and no amount of reasoning could persuade him to apologise. This was uncharacteristic though of his usually easy going manner. It did refer though to a side of him which struggled to find contentment – Derek was deliberate in movement and his thinking was methodical. The cogs ground slowly but continually. I suppose we all have our demons. Above all he was extremely funny.

Derek loved food and drink and a good party. He had an amazing variety of friends and despite the fact that we were never terribly well off, we behaved like rock-stars and thought we were the bees knees. That was Joburg for you. I believe his Right-Hand man Bruce Gordon is still being blamed for failed marriages, absenteeism, and poor turn-over in restaurants because of their legendary "long lunches" ...

He had an extraordinary work ethic, choosing to work in less than "professional" attire (his dressing gown), and always from home. I never recall him ever missing a deadline. Cartooning however, was proving less than lucrative. It was also extremely time consuming and Derek often mused that he needed to do something in addition to cartooning – ie: to use his images in a way which would make money "while he was sleeping". To reproduce his images onto merchandise which could be sold over and over again. This thinking led to the "Joburg Years". He joined forces with a formidable team involved with retail, and developed a wide range of images to be used on commercial products aimed at the tourism industry. He was allocated shares in the company which was later floated on the stock exchange, which would finally would put him in a lucrative enough position to consider moving back to the Cape.

The land of Elgin

We began looking for property in 1998 and finally bought a small piece of land in Elgin. We left Johannesburg three weeks after our second daughter was born in 2001. It was on this undeveloped 35 hectares of land in Elgin that he planned to build a house and start a new phase. Working commercially had achieved its financial goals but Derek was keenly aware of his "Faustian Pact" in terms of the toll it had taken on his "art". In any event the timing was good. The New South Africa in the early years couldn't compete in terms of material with the brutality, stupidity and cruelty that had characterised Apartheid and the State of Emergency. FW de Klerk was winning Nobel Prizes for peace for heaven's sake! Pickings for the cartoonist were slim indeed.

The return of the "glint in the eye" factor turned out to be the ill-fated 9/11. We were living in a rented cottage bordering the land we had bought and had just begun building. All our possessions were in storage and Derek would work with a small short-wave radio as his constant companion. When the news broke, Derek was beside himself and immediately drew a sketch of Bin Laden and faxed it to his brother living in America. This was to be the last cartoon.

He was tragically killed at around 6pm on the 16th December 2001 in a car accident. He was travelling alone.