Walter Battiss, one of South Africa’s foremost abstract painters, spent a large part of his career coupling art and education. Amongst other things he was the art master for Pretoria Boys High from 1936 till the late 1960s. He travelled, collaborated, wrote books, exhibited; doing everything an artist could do.

He was born in 1906 in Somerset East, Eastern Cape. In a few short years his family moved to Koffiefontein and then eventually settled in Fauresmith, where he matriculated in 1923. He started working as a clerk at the magistrates court just the following year. After gaining some work experience he enrolled in tertiary studies.

He completed a diploma at Witwatersrand Technical College followed by a teacher’s diploma at Johannesburg training college. Soon afterwards he went back to work at the magistrates court while also studying. He finally obtained a bachelors degree in fine art at UNISA; by this time he was already into his thirties. Unlike many other local artists, he did not study overseas at this time.

Battiss met up with Picasso and Gino Severini in the 1950s and was even invited to lecture on South African art during that same year. He took some time to travel through Europe in the 60s and visited the Seychelles in the early 70s. This saw the birth of his legendary and imaginative ‘Fook Island‘. His imagination and ideal of Fook Island led him to a much deeper place than just being a quirky artist. This was his weapon of choice against apartheid; he noted that Fook Island exists inside everyone.

Walter Battiss: African Art

It is clear that Walter Battiss was more than colour, imagination and abstract art. He was a deep thinker and used his art to speak to people.

Come back for more of Walter Battiss in the weeks that follow.