Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Time to let my over-fertile imagination/subconscious have free rein. This is a collection of largely semi-abstract images I concocted in the late 1980s, while working as a reporter in Port Elizabeth. I guess they offered an escape from the harsh reality of a country in crisis and my own personal relationship hiatus.

Jung. Freud. All of them. They would know why I arrived at images loaded with breasts and other female attributes.

And not all of them were beautiful.

Though some were.

Just another poor boy.

And another.

You do. You see faces in things and then you expand on them.

This blue border suggested two profiles, one black, one white. This was the late 1980s, remember, in apartheid SA.

Why do some pieces of paper age so badly, and others not? Could the wool be greasy?

Even this half-shod fellow couldn't escape a pair of boobs attaching themselves to him.

I've just seen a face ... No, I'm not referring to the Beatles song. This is a man - no mistaking that - but I see a profile in his left trouser leg for the first time.

Pity those who live inland. Ships at sea are one of the great visual delights.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Central, Port Elizabeth

Ensconced in Central, the historic heart of Port Elizabeth, in the late 1980s, and again single, I took myself off on regular walks around the place. Having lived in the city since 1984, I grew increasingly aware of its rich built heritage, the product of its interesting history since the arrival of the 1820 British settlers.

One of many historic landmarks in the city is the Edward Hotel, which faces across the Donkin Reserve towards the sea. It was built in 1908.

I took a walk along the banks of the Baakens Valley, drawing this view of part of that green lung.

This is a view looking down on the reflective surface of the Baakens from above a cliff in Settlers Park.

Stick around in the park long enough and you're sure to come across a tortoise or two - not to mention some of the hundreds of wild bird species that frequent the place.

Another view down the Baakens valley, with part of the harbour at the end of it.

St Mary's Cemetery is situated right at the mouth of the Baakens and behind the now dilapidated PE Tramways building (where my grandfather, JC Bentley, was a senior executive in the mid-19th century). This is one of the tombstones in the graveyard.

For me there was a symbolic significance about this statue in that cemetery, because either the angel looked a lot like my ex-wife, or else I drew her thus.

I made a note of two epitaphs in the cemetery, which includes the graves of many actual 1820 settlers. The top one refers to an early editor of the newspaper I work on, the Eastern Province Herald (now simply called The Herald), which was established in 1945 and is the oldest daily in SA.

Who are you? The guy on the right is me, a self-portrait done probably in the late 1980s, because I only got spectacles around 1988. The guy on the left is a bit of fun.

Monday, October 25, 2010


There are two mountainous places Eastern Cape coastal dwellers often gravitate to for holidays - Hogsback and Katberg. In the late 1980s, we had a Bentley family get-together at Katberg, which is surprisingly close to Hogsback - only about 50km as the crow flies.

I was armed with a soft pencil for the trip, and did several drawings of the mountains surrounding our hired self-catering cottage. As with Hogsback, many locals make a bit of money from the tourists by selling walking sticks with patterning etched into the wood. One of the young guys we met, Patrick Makinana, agreed to be sketched. It is not often I do posed portraits like this, but I think it turned out quite well.

This is a view of the cottage we hired (I think), with the mountains beyond.

I recall this as a quick sketch of one of the locals carrying a lamb.

My enduring love of the sculptural quality of mountains found an outlet here. The mountains, though so close to those at Hogsback, are entirely different in character. Geologists will be able to explain why.

Not since doing basic training during my military conscription days in the late 1970s at Ladysmith in the foothills of the Drakensberg (see earlier postings), had I explored peaks with pencil to this extent. And now I had an actual drawing book and decent pencil - as opposed to working with ballpoint pen on lined notebook paper.

The soft pencil definitely lends itself to drawing the folds of mountains.

This is actually the left-hand half of a panoramic view I did over two opposing pages of the surrounding hills and mountains. The right-hand half is below, but I think each works quite well alone.

Let's face it

Okay, it's the mid- to late-1980s. I'm recently divorced, SA is in turmoil, and I have a box of oil pastels with which to play around. This was the end result.

A multi-faced confrontation beside a setting sun. Was there symbolism here?

This group seem to be sitting in church pews, bathed in the glow of a stained glass window.

This recalls, in a way, a drawing I did in about 1977, after I came close to being beaten up by National Party heavies at a PW Botha meeting which I single-handedly heckled in the East London City Hall.

And here, a conjoined couple on a boat to where?

Kandinsky taught us about escaping into fantasy worlds - or was it Frans Marc?

Ouch! This, done entirely from my subconscious, seems to speak about where my mind was in terms of my relationship with women at the time.


Parisian artist.

Red is a siren colour.

Not quite male or female, this figure seems lost in a troubled world.

From another time, again it is quirky faces which spring from my subconscious.

Did you know that a horse's hoof is equivalent to our finger or toe nails?

The female form was never far from my subconscious mind.

Will this guy saw down the post and make an escape?

I mentioned earlier that this arrangement crops up occasionally.

I can't help seeing myself in some of these.

Long strips of paper off-cuts gave me something to play with - though this guy looks like he's never played in his life.

Would this guy be North African, perhaps?

You know what they say: big nose, small pipe.

A neck to kill for.

A ski-slope chin.

A new era

I moved into a flat in Lawrence Street, Central, the historic heart of Port Elizabeth, probably in about mid-1986. Sharing with a lesbian colleague, I found myself not only experiencing at first hand something of the gay sub-culture, but also increasingly meeting activists who were part of United Democratic Front structures bent on ending apartheid.

I cannot be sure, but this seems to be a sketch of Dominique Souchon, one of the many young activists in PE at the time.

Again, I can't be sure who this is, but it was probably a friend of my flatmate, Michel.

This may, or may not, be Janet Cherry, who would go on to spend a long time in security police detention under the state of emergency.

Two faces on a page, but I have no memory of who they are.

This elongated format - simple offcuts of paper from somewhere - lends itself to interesting compositions.