Thursday, July 29, 2010

Near the end

Two years of my life as a military conscript were coming to an end. In army parlance I had "min dae". I was an "ou man" now, having endured whatever so-called national service threw at me from July 1979 till the end of June, 1981. What the period did provide, in retrospect, and as this blog has shown thus far, was an incredible opportunity to hone my drawing skills, acquired during a four-year fine art diploma course at the East London Tech from 1975 to 1978. As the end approached, I even lashed out on a proper sketch pad, costing all of R1.05. These are some of the drawings done in it. I was in a smaller bungalow now, with about a dozen okes, all of whom knew that this was only the end of the beginning. "Camps" of one- and three-month duration beckoned, with four months expected of us every two-year cycle for the next 10 years or so.

Being almost part of the furniture at 1 Intelligence School, Kimberley, we even got on fairly cordially with the RSM, mentioned earlier. This is his dog, nicknamed "Troep", which meant he ordered it around like he did the rest of the troops.

I packed several faces onto this page, including two or three who've cropped up earlier. That's Koertie on the right, and the excentric McCann on the left.

McCann was a total character. After the attempt at a realistic sketch, top, I did a quickie below which seemed to capture something of his zaniness. He had the ability to grow beard-like stubble in the space of a weekend.

This, I suspect is Peter Bain, a colleague from the Cape, who was in that final bungalow.

McCann joined some of the okes bent on boosting their muscles by working out with weights.

This comprises several sketches of Mr Bain. As noted earlier, writing home in those pre-cellphone, pre-email days was a regular occurrence.

How's this for a pencil portrait of aforementioned Peter Bain. There was one oke with us, whose first name only I recall as Ronny, who would always rip Peter off with the now seemingly childish misspelling of his name: "Peter B, A, N, Bain." Strange the things you remember.

I can't recall this guy's name, but he was an Afrikaans oke from East London. That seems to be the pencil shape of a dog, probably Troep, while below left I have dressed the canine in military gear, so he can pull his weight.

During my art school diploma course I designed several chess sets, and made a few as well - from ceramics and carved from wood. So here, next to a careful study of my army boot, are ideas for another set.

Somehow I always found time to jot down a few images of the okes as they prepared for inspections, or whatever.

A few more guys from the period near the end of our two years. The chap shown twice on the right is, I think, the same one mentioned earlier, from East London.

Oh to fly away back to civilian life. This odd, smirking creature emerged from my subconscious probably around the time the "Forty Days" bug was biting.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Drawing furiously

This is my art form. I draw from life. And I did it with alacrity while doing two years' compulsory military service in the early 1980s. Herewith, another batch of those drawings, mainly done in the barracks, or bungalows, which I shared with hordes of other consripts.

Each picture, no matter how quick the sketch, has a specific, defining character of pose. This guy's straw-like hair tops off an economical technique.

This, I suspect, is again my mate of the time, Alan McIntyre. Note the feet just suggested, resting on something in the distance.

Who was this guy again? Another young Durbanite, I even went with him and a few mates to stay in his mom's flat. A divorcee, she got remarried that weekend in a humid Durban in February.

There is an unintended, probably, anger about this guy. Note the stretch of foreground leg.

Sammajoor. That's how Sergeant-Major sounds in Afrikaans. This was our RSM Blignaut, "die baas van die plaas". His favourite saying was: "The major mustn't f..k me around he must buy me a round."

I remember this oke as Koert. A likeable fellow, he always had a smile and seemed to relax with his legs in the oddest places.

Sometimes the sketches are so quick just the essence of the subject is captured.

I rather like this group of several severe right-looking faces.

One page of images can have a specific drawing style. Here I sort of zigzagged a bit, especially in the hair of the oke eating something on the left.

Solly Selkirk? Was his first name Solly, or was it his nickname? No matter, again his thin, wiry body lent itself to being drawn.

Koert, the oke with the legs he didn't know what to do with.

Not many ous realised I was sketching them, but this one seemed to have caught on - and not been amused.

A minimalist approach obtains here, with a smattering of dashes doing the job.

More juxtapositioning of disparate images.

That oke Koert again, this time reading.

Sometimes setting the image not quite centrally has a positive effect. While this guy looks out of the page, had the drawing been completed, more of his back would have been shown.

Foreshortening is an essential part of drawing. Though the feet here are merely suggested, they do create a sense of depth.

That density of humanity, especially in our first 100-plus hangar-bungalow, is evident in this grouping of bodies in the heat of a Kimberley summer.

Mr McIntyre again, done in a few zigzaggy lines.

I rather enjoy the shading on this oke's back. Again, a foreground figure creates depth.

Three characters captured in a minimum of lines. Glasses and a moustache add so much.

One small face on a large page. I can picture this young guy, though he's 30 years older now.

One of the Durban okes in the media centre where I spent most of my time. He had a hip Bowie-like hairstyle, despite the army.

The beret adds to the lengthening of this oke's face.

The ever-smiling Koert.

A successful page, with three or four (two may be of the same oke) of my media centre colleagues captured in pencil.

Back in the bungalow

I have many dozens more drawings done while serving my two years of military conscription, mainly in Kimberley, from 1979 to 1981. Here is a cross-section of them.

There is something about the immediacy of "drawing" with watercolours that I like. If I recall correctly, we were eventually allowed to wear civilian shirts on Sunday, except of course when going to the mess for meals.

Those felt-tip pens offered a nice bit of colour in a drab environment, and here I turned a guy's face - I think it is Alan McIntyre - into a multi-coloured object.

It's all about composition, too. Here the arm in the foreground is merely suggested, but does the trick.

Mr McIntyre again, I suspect, having a bit of a chuckle.

Another grinning soul, with beret.

The beret did give okes a certain sense of style, I suppose.

A rather sullen-looking trooper.

With just a few lines you can capture a pose.

A composite in which the oke at the top would have moved, leaving the drawing incomplete.

Again, the same old image. Oke reading on a bed, with a few "kaste" behind.

John Lennon's death

I was in the sickbay at 1 Intelligence Unit, Kimberley, when I heard from my mates, who came to the window to tell me that John Lennon had been assassinated outside his New York City apartment on December 8, 1980. Having, on an earlier posting, shown some of the pictures I did, using felt-tip pens while in the sickbay with shingles which closed my one eye, here are a few more from that series, including several done from my head dealing with Lennon's death.

The figure falls, bent and twisted, to the ground, the red of his jumper possibly also the red of his blood. Behind, ephemeral shapes emerge as millions of Lennon fans around the globe went into mourning.

This and two subsequent abstract drawings seem to deal with the spiritual fall-out of the Lennon assassination. Here I see something of the psychedelic lyrics and music which were a key part of the great man's oeuvre.

Again, there is a sense of a spirit floating free here. The fan shape may just have been inspired by the fan in the sickbay.

This seems again to speak of souls in flight. Flowers were a key hippie symbol, and of course speak of love, which, as Lennon once said, is all we need. Remember at the time we had been told by our military mind masters that songs like Lennon's Imagine played right into the hands of the communists who were out to destroy us. "Imagine there's no countries. It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. No religion too."

No, this guy isn't distraught about Lennon's death. It is just a sketch of one of the okes who worked in the sickbay taking a nap.

The interior of our ward, which I shared mainly with guys with chicken pox. Note the fan on the right.

Room with a view. I've abstracted this view of trees as seen from my bed. One of the best parts of sickbay was being able to bath privately, as opposed to those horrible communal showers.

We met this guy in an earlier posting. He lay in a bad opposite me, and spent much time reading.

The same guy, with those thick-rimmed specs.