P L A N E T P A U L
Paul du Toit is a South African artist who has carved a unique niche in the international arena. Beyond being able to access and be exhibited globally, du Toit has simultaneously continued to create a very personal form of art that has not adjusted itself to the demands of a commercial art market. Du Toit’s art is his own; a linear, phantasmic world that he has created from his mind and experiences.
Over the years, he has built up a forest of symbols – his own alphabet of awkward scrawls that spawn off each other. When he creates a work of art, he retains only forms that are appropriate. This combined with the treatment of space and master lines, scratched into wet paint with sticks, result in a desired unity of composition. Primary colours are added on top of the impasto and movement is created by a variation in the dimension of forms in relation to other elements. His work starts out with a line(origination) and ends with a black line defining the pools of colour.
Among the many awards he has received is a medal from the city of Florence in the Biennale Internationale Dell’arte Contemporanea. He was nominated for the Daimler Chrysler Sculpture Award of 2002. He has worked with former president Nelson Mandela on several occasions and international musicians on the 46664 campaign and the establishment of Mandela Day. This year he is collaborating with another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to create a handmade illustrated artist book at Pace Prints in New York where Paul opened a studio in 2011.
Chronology compiled by Sarah McCarthy and Pippa Tsilik
1965 Paul du Toit is born on 31 October to Andries and Jeannette, at the Marymount Convent Hospital in Johannesburg. The family lives in Fordsburg Mayfair, Johannesburg, next door to Paul˙s artist aunt, Elizabeth van der Sandt. He divides his growing years between his father’s workshop and his aunt˙s studio. He creates sculptures in the workshop out of electrical gadgets, and next door his aunt tutors him in oil painting techniques. His mother spends countless hours with him at the library. Later, Paul views the hunger for knowledge that she instills in him as one of his greatest assets.
1970 Paul’s family moves to Roodepoort (west of Johannesburg), and Paul begins his schooling in 1972. ˙I had a big problem with authority, and never enjoyed school,˙ he says.
1976 Paul contracts juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 11, and spends the next three years in and out of hospitals and wheelchairs. He learns the value of perseverance, and ˙how to make a plan˙. In hospital he is profoundly affected by seeing other patients, some better off than him, others worse.
1977 Paul is inspired by a visit to the circus and the sight of a clown getting ready for the next show. He is struck by the colourful makeup used to create a fake smile and comical features, and thinks about these images for months afterwards. These variations of happy and sad clown faces appear in Paul˙s mature works. Still an invalid, he paints when he can, reducing his art to simple line drawings and sketches from memory. He sells his first painting, and buys himself a set of oils with the proceeds.
1978 Paul gradually recovers from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, with a rebellious attitude of ˙I survived that; I can do anything˙. While recovering in hospital he receives art books from his family about Miro and Picasso. This makes a lasting impression and the influences are clearly visible in his work today.
1980 Paul becomes lead singer and lead guitarist of a school punk-rock band. They perform one gig. He is part of a close group of twelve friends, called ˙The Mob˙. He meets his future wife, Lorette Olivier, at 15. They fall in love, and the relationship survives the fact that he ends up a year behind her in their final school years.
1983 Paul is held back a year at high school, apparently for dressing (and behaving) like Sid Vicious on Spring Day.
1984 Paul matriculates, a year after Lorette.
1985 Paul is conscripted to the South African Air Force. His rugby skills gain him a soft ticket and some free time and he is able to spend the next two years of his service doing carpentry; he makes lots of picture frames. He casts his first bronze, of an aeroplane. In the second year of his service he wants to study art part-time at the Pretoria Technikon, but the course is four years long, and he cannot afford it. He settles for a part-time one-year course in computer science instead.
1987 Straight out of the army, Paul finds a job as a computer programmer. The personal computer arrives in South Africa, and Paul joins a software house that builds and sells PCs, and writes mainframe software. He paints in his spare time.
1988 Lorette and Paul marry in January 1988.
1989 A combination of poor business practice and the effects of sanctions against South Africa forces Paul˙s employer into liquidation. Lorette and Paul lose their car and fall behind on their house payments. Paul cannot find work.
1990 He finds grim employment in a bank doing a job he finds boring and repetitive. He paints at night, dark and shadowy pictures that relieve him of some of his unhappiness. He writes a smart card system.
1992 In December Paul and Lorette take their first trip overseas, to Italy. He is dumbstruck by the richness of Florence˙s art, in particular Michelangelo˙s sculpture of David. He leaves Florence with a commitment to developing his own work and practising it on a full-time basis.
1994 Paul paints ˙Two my Friends˙ on a piece of chipboard. Paul and Lorette travel to Paris and Paul studies a group of sculptures made of polyurethane foam, metal drums and plastic in a sculpture garden behind the Louvre. The crudeness and playfulness of these abstract forms resonate with Paul, and he goes back to South Africa with a renewed excitement about his own sculpture. He works in his garage, making sculptures from found materials, mostly plastic. He enters three sculptures into a competition and wins first prize for Best Artist with No Formal Training at the Association of Arts, Bellville, Cape Town. This success inspires Paul. Lorette falls pregnant, and the couple decide to move to Cape Town in the near future.
1995 On 6 February Paul and Lorette˙s daughter, Danielle, is born. In October the family moves to their current abode in Hout Bay, Cape Town. Paul wants to study art full time, but his commitments do not allow it. The software product he had developed does not sell in the Cape. Lorette supports the family while Paul windsurfs during the day and paints at night.
1996 In the new house, Paul for the first time has his own studio, ˙a space dedicated to creating art˙. It measures 3 m x 1 m. Paul starts using a new medium, a thick industrial concrete filler into which he scratches lines and images. This impasto technique, which he had first seen in Italy, becomes intrinsic to Paul’s style. The depth, texture and quality of the line are reminiscent of sculpture. He keeps his PC in the studio, and this space becomes a ‘nerve-centre’ from which he connects to the art world of Europe via the Internet.
1997 Paul sells his first paintings locally. He creates his own website, PlanetPaul, and loads five portraits onto it. The paintings are spotted by a gallery owner in Paris, and Paul is invited to present a solo exhibition of twenty-five paintings there in March 1998. He makes the most of this break and sees the opportunity to devote himself solely to art. He exhibits in a group exhibition at Groot Constantia Art Gallery, Cape Town. On 2 September Paul and Lorette˙s son, Joshua, is born.
1998 Paul˙s paintings are exhibited in a number of international and local exhibitions, which generates interest amongst the local media. He appears on CNN˙s International Art Club and is featured prominently in a week-long series devoted to South Africa. His website begins to receive hits from around the globe. His first solo exhibition in Paris, ˙Visitors from PlanetPaul˙, is a major success. While in Paris, Paul spends hours studying the bronzes of Picasso and other artists of the period. Back in South Africa, he creates his first bronzes, called Ralph and Little Ralph, and his longstanding interest in and love for sculpture finally come to the fore. In October he has his first local solo exhibition, ‘Future Fantastic’, at Bang the Gallery, Cape Town, which includes paintings as well as one of the Ralph bronzes.
1999 Paul continues to exhibit his work both locally and internationally, including shows in Edinburgh and Moscow. Corporates including Vodacom and IBM both show interest and buy some of Paul’s paintings. Paul creates and shows his short film video installation ˙Origins of Modern Human: Channel Surfing˙ at The Liberman Room, during the ˙Softserve˙ exhibition, in the South African National Gallery, Cape Town.
2000 Paul contributes to the ˙70 over 2000˙ exhibition, which opens in London and tours fourteen countries. Paul˙s participation in this exhibition, along with the cream of Europe˙s avant-garde artists, is impressive, considering that Professor Demarco sees the work of thousands of artists every month. This is followed with one solo and one group exhibition in Cape Town, as well as exhibitions in Holland and London. Paul creates a series of painted wooden sculptures.
2001 Paul˙s work appears at the Holland Art Fair in The Hague and in two solo exhibitions, one in Cape Town, one in Holland. He creates a number of sculptures in found steel, as well as a series of bronzes that focus on the whole human figure. He is nominated for the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Sculpture 2002. He is also nominated to exhibit works at the Florence Biennale of Contemporary Art in December 2001, by Professor John T. Spike, the director of the festival. He wins a fifth place medal in the sculpture section, competing against over 600 artists.
2002 Two of Paul˙s paintings trade at Sotheby˙s at well over the reserve price. Christiaan Barnard hosts a solo exhibition of Paul˙s latest sculptures and paintings, in Johannesburg. Paul exhibits on the American continent for the first time - at the Toronto International Art Fair. Paul and Lorette go to Zanzibar for a holiday. Paul is fascinated by the dhows sailing in and out of the harbour, and makes a number of sketches. On his return he creates a series of bronze sculptures from wire armatures filled with a solid compound. The shapes and lines of these figures are reminiscent of the sails of the dhows, and bring a new element to Paul˙s painting and sculpture.
2003 Paul experiments with different media and his palette becomes richer, as he adds subdued, grainy nuances to his signature strong primary colours. Lorette joins the PlanetPaul team fulltime and much of the year is taken up with building a new studio. For the first time Paul has a bright, airy space to work in. Paul starts painting with groups of children at the Red Cross Children˙s Hospital in Cape Town, becoming a ˙Champion of the Children˙ of the Children’s Hospital Trust. He donates work for the annual art auction ball, which fundraises for the hospital.
2004 Paul has his first solo exhibition in New York, curated by Kˇan Jeff Baysa, whom he had met over the Internet in 1999. The exhibition is reviewed in NY Arts Magazine, and the opening of the exhibition is featured in Arts and Antiques Magazine. He also has a solo show in Holland. He does a series of works on paper, in mixed media. They feature a simple stick figure drawn with childlike simplicity, with an upturned ˙L˙ foot, which becomes an important part of Paul’s artistic ˙alphabet˙.
2005 Paul has a successful exhibition at the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town including works on paper and paintings, as well as painted sculptures made from resin and fibreglass. He also spends a week working at the Dieu DonnÚ Papermill in New York City, creating a series of paintings made from paper pulp to which a colour mixture is applied. Paul creates the Purple Hominid mural at the Cradle of Humankind in Sterkfontein, South Africa. His paintings reflect a new complexity, with multiple figures brought together in different perspectives in the picture plane.
2006 Paul exhibits the series of paper pulp paintings at the Erdmann Contemporary in Cape Town. He presents new works including monumental sculptural pieces at a solo exhibition in Johannesburg. These sculptures represent the culmination and expression of drawing, painting and sculptural techniques that he has developed over many years. His ten years as a professional artist are showcased in a 160-page book, and in a DVD. The exhibition also features a short animation film in collaboration with Josie Borain and Iain Anderson. In October Paul returns to the Dieu DonnÚ Papermill in New York, to explore the next generation of paper works. Paul exhibits various works in a group exhibition with Marlene Dumas, William Kentridge, Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst at 34LONG Fine Art in Cape Town in December.
2007 Early in the year, Paul visits China for the first time. He goes to Shanghai and Beijing, where he meets curator Zhaohui Zhang. While in Beijing he watches people doing water calligraphy and becomes fascinated with ancient Chinese writing systems. In particular, he studies the compositional effect of brush-strokes that make up the characters of Chinese writing, which the black lines in his own works echo and reflect. His reading and research into Chinese writing confirms and strengthens his sense that human communication is underpinned by a universal non-verbal language made up of symbols and signs. He also visits Hong Kong, where he has a solo exhibition at the exclusive Kee Club. Paul exhibits several large sculptures in Sculpture by the Sea, a group exhibition held at Bondi Beach,Sydney, and Cottesloe Beach in Perth. Back in New York, he participates in ‘Per square foot’, a group exhibition held at Dieu DonnÚ Papermill, NYC. He has solo exhibitions at 34LONG Fine Art, Cape Town and in the Wynwood Art District in Miami. He rounds off the year with an exhibition of works at the Art Now Fair, Kyle Kauffman Gallery NY, held in Miami Beach.
2008 This is a watershed year for Paul. He produces a one-off unique bronze cast of former President Nelson Mandela's hand for a fundraising event for Mr Mandela's Children's Fund held in London. The work is auctioned for $3.5m. Some of his works on paper, created at the Dieu Donne Papermill, NYC, go on group exhibition for Dieu DonnÚ's annual benefit auction. Paul also participates in two group exhibitions, ‘Face 08’ and ‘Lustre, dots and more’, at 34LONG Fine Art in Cape Town. In New York City some of his works are shown in a group exhibition entitled ‘Regeneration’ at the Kyle Kauffman Gallery. Paul’s solo exhibition, ‘Generative Markings’ shows at the Kyle Kauffman Gallery in New York City, NY, in October/November. Some works are also shown at the Open Art Fair in Utrecht. Towards the end of the year Paul has a solo exhibition, ‘Some Strange Alphabet’, at Graham’s Contemporary Fine Art Gallery in Johannesburg.
2009 Paul begins work on a series of life-sized sculptures in aluminium, aptly named ‘Hominid Gang’, later exhibited as part of a solo exhibition at the Barnard Gallery in Cape Town. Paul also takes part in 3 group exhibitions at 34 Long Fine Art. Paul has a solo exhibition, ‘Prehistoric idols’ at 34LONG Fine Art, Cape Town, and recent works are shown by Rose Korber Art in Cape Town. Two Person exhibition in Amsterdam Paul is again invited by the Nelson Mandela Foundation to participate in its fundraising project. Paul goes to Johannesburg to take an impression of Madiba’s hand. He produces a matt sandstone and resin cast of the Madiba’s hand, which is auctioned at a gala fundraising event in New York City.
2010 Needing more space to work on larger canvases, Paul rents a large loft space on the top floor of an old biscuit factory, in Woodstock, Cape Town, where he holds a successful solo exhibition ‘Key elements’ at the Barnard Gallery, including the Hominid Gang sculptures. Paul goes on a private writing retreat, where he uses the time to reflect, record and recharge. In October he opens the Woodstock studio to show his newer larger works, in what turns out to be a successful exhibition titled 'Transformative Movements'. Paul is invited to collaborate with Archbishop Desmond Tutu to make a one-off, unique handmade book, to be auctioned in New York in 2012 for the Lunchbox Fund. The work will be done during 2011. Soon after, Paul is about to leave for a trip to the US, when he is diagnosed with a melanoma. The trip is delayed until 2011 as Paul undergoes treatment.
2011 While still recovering from treatment, Paul creates an installation ‘That’s me on the corner’ on a major building at an intersection in Cape Town’s city centre. While in New York, Paul rents a studio space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. [In May, Paul is back again to turn the studio space into a place where he can work. ] Paul takes part in an exhibition in Franschoek, near Cape Town, entitled ‘Future Primeval’. Back in Cape Town, Paul does a live painting ‘The art of rock’ during a fundraising event for the Zip Zap Circus in Cape Town. In October, Paul returns to New York to work in his new studio. He also spends a week at the Pace Paper Studio in Brooklyn where he makes a set of 13 original lino and woodcut prints to accompany and illustrate Desmond Tutu’s handwritten quotations for a one-off handmade book. The book will be auctioned in favour of the Lunchbox Fund in 2012. In December, Paul opens his Hout Bay studio for several successful open studio days. He gives the first of a series of art talks at ‘Art in the Forest’, in Constantia, Cape Town, on the theme ‘My journey as an artist’.
2012 Paul begins the year with a much-needed and long-planned family trip to Paris. [The holiday provides a shot of energy, after the difficulties of 2011. Since early in Paul’s career, Jean Dubuffet has been an icon for Paul, and he visits the Dubuffet Foundation. Paul spends March in New York and visits the exhibition of handmade books created by Pace Prints and people such as Sir Ben Kingsley, Chuck Close, Deepak Chopra, Hugh Masekela, rock photographer Bob Gruen with Yoko Ono, Michael Stipe, Phillip Glass and Salman Rushdie (with illustrations by Francisco Clemente).The book of quotations by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and lino and woodcut prints by Paul is auctioned for $11,000. The books are auctioned at the Lunchbox Fund Bookfair Auction. Paul is signed up at the Gallery Momo in Parktown, Johannesburg. In August, Gallery Momo will hold a solo exhibition of Paul’s paintings. Paul holds an Open Studio show in his New York studio at the end of May/ beginning of June. A selection of new and existing sculptures, entitled ‘A slice in time’ will go on show at the Nirox Sculpture Garden at the Cradle of Humankind, in Gauteng, South Africa.