I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on the 30th of July 1986. My father was transferred to the quiet little town of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, USA, in 1988, I was two years old. I went to Wayside Elementary, and then Central Middle School. I managed to avoid attending the junior and senior high schools, and instead finished my lower education by correspondence course.
One day in the sixth grade, after handing in our assignments in art class, the teacher, Jan Brieschke, asked me to stay after class. A very well behaved child I wondered why. As the other students filed out of the room, I hung back, not sure what to make of the situation. She went on to explain that she was teaching an oil painting class at a local community college, Roger’s State University, and invited me to attend. Unlike countless permission slips that had disappeared into my backpack never to be seen again, the note from the art teacher was proudly presented to my mother upon the standard inquiry “How was school today?” The next step was to buy the supplies, and a box to put them in. I still have that box. It’s dark green and has my name rendered in my mother’s block script upon the lid. I attended said class and have been painting with oils ever since.
I was diagnosed with Marfan’s Syndrome around age 12. It’s a genetic connective tissue disorder involving the body’s ability to create fibrillin (whatever that is). All I can tell you is it hurts. At age fifteen I had surgery to insert titanium Harington rods in my spine to prevent the progression of some pretty serious scoliosis and I’ve been in pain ever since.
I went to college at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater Oklahoma. I started out an architecture major, for the simple reason that it was in some way artistic, and it fulfilled my father’s requirement of “getting a job”. But as it turns out, I’m hopeless at math, and my health failing at the time, was able to convince my family I should transfer to the art department. Much to the chagrin of one professor who had marveled at one of my designs, measuring it repeatedly to be sure it fit the requirement of “fit all these rooms into a building on the side of a cliff”, only to find that it always did.
As most art institutions, OSU’s art department was highly focused on conceptualism over naturalism. I tried my best to create work that had some deep angsty inner meaning by focusing on the subject of my medical situation. The only problem with this was that, spending hours staring at a picture, the focus of which is one’s own pain and suffering, was in itself insufferable. I eventually managed to smash “African Wildlife Art” into a nice conceptual box and return to painting what love. Due to my chronic pain, I could not manage a full class load so the four year degree took me more than a little longer than that, but in December of 2014 I graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Art.
It is a fairly common idiom to state something along the lines of “When you leave Africa, it keeps a piece of your soul, and the only way to be whole again, is to visit that piece of your soul by returning to Africa.” Forgive me as I take this statement one step further. I was born in Africa, and when that happens, the ‘Dark Continent’ gets to keep more than just a little bit of your soul. It keeps the whole thing. And being an artist wondering around America with no soul was… challenging, to say the least.
I remember on a family vacation to South Africa, on the way to the airport heading back to the US, I was staring woefully out the window. I wondered if this would be my last visit home, seeing as I was soon to graduate and figured I wouldn’t be able to afford the trip in the future. Just then I spotted a Land Rover Defender in the distance tearing its way through a patch of dry bushveldt, and I envied its driver.
In February of 2015 I moved, permanently, back to Africa. I have since acquired a Land Rove Freelander 2. Okay, it’s not a Defender, but it’s got airbags, it’s a fair tradeoff. So far it hasn’t done much “tearing through the bushveldt” but we are only at the beginning of this chapter.