POSTSCRIPT

We first met at your house in Cape Town, in the summer of 1983. You suggested that R. bring me for tea. You lead me into the kitchen, asked me to choose my own cup and saucer.

I was overwhelmed by the interior of the house in Brownlow Road. Tall Victorian windows looking out over the city bowl, hung with Akan Kente from Ghana, lined with vernacular African blankets. Black and white linocuts by John Muafangejo and others; layers of rugs from Morocco and Turkey, across Victorian carpets; 'ball and claw' furniture like that in the houses of my childhood Afrikaans friends, recontextualised; aloe plants and succulents, proteas and strelitzias in traditional beer pots; animal skulls on the wall of the courtyard, Barendt's cardboard snake on the table; an enormous Andy Warhol poster for Fassbinder's Querelle in the bathroom; Victorian china, Eastern ceramics, Hylton Nel's plates and vases.

(I remember the tall narrow windows of your studio, which I think must have come later – down the stairs, under your bedroom, lined with paintings, a private space, beneath a private space – M., sitting on the stairs, thin torso naked and sweating slightly in the heat, eyes a little too bright.) I was unprepared for all this beauty, the likes of which I had never imagined in the long hot afternoons of my suburban childhood.

Is this how it was, Henry?

You said, 'I would still make paintings, even if nobody liked them, or bought them.' I was struck by your artisanal attitude to your work, and by what this comment suggested about the function of 'making' paintings in your life.

Everywhere, your enormous paintings, in their simple, rough, handmade frames: landscapes and still lives. Exteriors like windows onto the desert landscapes you loved from your childhood - brown, dusty green, ochre, flashes of colour like stormy lightning, the scrubby desert plants from your native land. Interiors, showing your beautiful home, the objects you surrounded yourself with as an adult, full of stories, connected by lattices of memories and knowledge, drawing lines of connection between African and European culture. The formal framing devices that so often appear in your work echoed the wooden windows of your house, and the rough frames you made for the paintings, and the angles of the canvases stacked against the studio walls.

You seemed so connected to Africa, to the landscape, and the cultural artifacts of its people. You became integral to my conception of the country, to my understanding of the meeting of African and European which took place there. You pointed a way to understand what it meant to be at this tip of Africa, at this time, in this place. Or rather, the synthesis of these elements in your work took on an enormous personal symbolism for me: it came to represent not just you, nor your understanding of the country, but in some weird way, it came to represent a balance of the tensions I experienced in myself, but which I had failed to articulate.

When I met Marius, as we began to fall in love, I wrote him a poem in which I tried to express this. When the revolution is over/I will take you for tea at Henry's house.

Years later, when I was living in London, you wrote and explained you were leaving, that you were emigrating to New Zealand. I remember sitting on the end of the bed, reading the letter, feeling as if something had been torn in two, some fabric, some connection of mine to an idea of 'home'.

At that time, all I owned of your work were two tiny images: a watercolour, one centimeter by one centimeter, of the desert. P. had given it to me as a farewell present when I left. The other was a sketch for your painting of Robert, leaning against the dining room table in Brownlow Road, watercolour on the back of an aerogram letter. No, there were three – there was a watercolour study of thornbushes, made while you walked through the Karoo desert - painted, you mentioned casually, in whiskey, not water.

Cape Town could not exist in the way that it had, without you in the house in Brownlow Road.

You came to visit us in Amsterdam. We talked about your work, about the disappearance of landscapes as subject. Of New Zealand, you said: 'The landscape is very fertile, very green. And I don't do green. It's not what I grew up with.'

Every couple of years, a work would arrive at my front door from New Zealand, either delivered by you, or by some kind friend who was acting as a courier. They were like temperature checks, or some glimpse of your interior world, and they compensated for the sorry state of our irregular, apologetic correspondence. Asia arrived: peonies, and gold, and red. A different kind of space appeared, the spaces between things, as opposed to the spaces around things. This wasn't about negative space, this was about moving through the gap between things into a space beyond.

Is that how it was, Henry?

When I visited you in Auckland, I was struck by how your house looked onto the courtyard garden: even the studio looked onto the courtyard, looked in. The interior was as rich as in the house in Brownlow Road, with some familiar objects, now joined by new ones from the East, but it was different. It felt like - well, it felt like a nomad's tent.

When I walked into your studio, the light was falling onto a plastic table cloth from China pinned on the wall, and next to it was the square canvas which showed that table cloth pinned to the wall, the light falling from the left – an element of a still life pinned to the wall like a butterfly. It hangs now in my house in Amsterdam, and in every room, in every hall, is work by you.

You described your life as connected to the outside world, to Europe, to Africa, but essentially interior. I asked you if you were happy; you smiled and said you were content, and that was "not nothing". This "not nothing'', it strikes me now, is like this "space between" I see in your work since leaving Africa.

I felt that I had found the definition of exile.
Stacks Image 94
The Piano Lesson Considered and Abandoned (with Euphorbia Grandicornis) 2011
I understand that it is almost impossible for me to view your work without it being coloured by my history with you, and with it. I understand, too, that I project my own unresolved relationship with Africa, and the past, on to you, and your paintings. This is understandable, I think. I understand too that the balance that I perceived in the work of the Eighties and try to describe above was precarious, perhaps uneasy. That house, those paintings, did not reflect the synthesis that I was seeking, but dramatized or made concrete a similar struggle to achieve that synthesis – the struggle for 'home', a dialogue between inner and outer worlds, and unanswerable questions about how to approach the African, how to position oneself in relation to 'the exotic', for want of a better word. I say unanswerable because I think that Post-Structuralist analysis does not quell yearning.

So when I look at the newer pieces hanging in my house, I recognize that it's not that your work is autobiographical, even if its function is psychological – after all, your quest is the same as it was, even if the concerns of the work are not. It's that somehow I have projected my own interior life onto them, and my understanding of them is inseparable from our ongoing dialogue(s).

As the years have gone by, I have come to understand in myself the importance of the studio, and the way that (perhaps) it is an externalization, or a metaphor for the most personal of inner spaces, the space of the practice of one's inner life. I have a studio too now, with a piano in it. When I sit there and play, I feel like one of those Russian dolls. I feel like inside me are multiple, younger versions of myself: back through my forties, through the years in Amsterdam, in London, the years in Cape Town, through my teens in Port Elizabeth, through all those years of music lessons, and back to that first day when Mrs du Plessis played Tchaikovsky to the 6 year-old me, to prove what was possible with artistry and art, while outside the revolution festered in the heat.

In my house in Amsterdam, your work from every decade hangs in every room, in every hall. The rooms of my house are full of things you have given me, objects of value, objects of interest and beauty, full of stories, connected by lattices of memories and knowledge, connecting African and European and Asian culture. In my apartment in London, the only works are by you. None of these pictures are landscapes, except for the tiny one of the desert near Douglas that Peter gave me when I left. The same is true of the innermost recesses of my personality: as a space, I am full of the things you have made, and given, and of the relationship we have made together.

I am in New York. I went to MoMa to see Matisse's Piano Lesson. I passed a Bonnard of Marthe, bathing, and I stopped, and thought of you again, and yes, I am afraid I cried.

Soon, I hope –
G.