Bauer was born in East London in 1955 and began his professional career as a cartoonist when he approached the newly founded South African newspaper “The Weekly Mail” with a portfolio of drawings in 1985. Bauer started cartooning at an early age when he would offer caricatures of his teachers to entertain his fellow classmates. Bauer qualified as a graphic designer at East London Technicon after which he worked as a layout artist and renderer and eventually as an art director for De Villiers and Schonfeld, today known as Young and Rubicam. He became disillusioned with advertising and design and considered entering the trade of carpentry – a skill he had acquired during his schooling. He finally decided to focus on drawing and subsequently over the years his cartoons appeared in The Weekly Mail and other known South African press. His work has also been included in a number of collections of South African cartoons and can be found in the National Gallery. He produced a book showcasing his best works from 1985 to 1987 – “SA Flambé and other Recipes for Disaster”. In 1991 Derek expressed a desire to exhibit his artwork one day. This wish came true on May 8th when his work was exhibited at Heritage Square during a private exhibition and launch. The husband and father persona of Derek Bauer is best expressed in the words of Rozy Gunn, his wife. In contrast with his violent graphics, Derek had a huge heart best described in the eloquent words of Rozy. Read more…
Bauer composed his cartoons with care and insight. The contrast between the aesthetic qualities and the brutal content of his graphics always left the reader pondering with a sense of unease. Bauer applied pen and ink with watercolour wash to capture an angry, scrambled and blotched style. Despite this, each blotch and scratch added to rather than cluttered or confused his commentary. Bauer’s emphasis was primarily visual. It could be concluded that the subject matter was often the drawing itself - seen by the frequent use of ink spots and fingerprints suggesting blood. This also implied a self-consciousness about the character and the medium he employed. According to Anton Harber, the then editor of The Weekly Mail and Head of Journalism at Witwatersrand University today, Bauer treated all subject matter as equals – a mark of a true cartoonist. This “independence” allowed him greater scope for developing a critical art practice as a non-aligned anarchist. Bauer would develop a relationship with his characters, which meant that after a while he would not require reference to express the character of a person. Even with little available visual information of banned and imprisoned “iconic” political figures such as Nelson Mandela, he dared visual representations that today still astonishes its reader. Bauer often evoked legal and political censorship in the press’ endeavor to protect itself from government prosecution. Editorial intervention at times obfuscated precise content of his cartoons (and commentary), which for the first time now, can be viewed in the manner Bauer intended.
On the 27 July 1988 Mario Pissarra conducted an interview with Derek Bauer. The material became part of a B.A. Honours Dissertation.
The full title of the dissertation was “CRITICISM AND CENSORSHIP IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN “ALTERNATIVE” PRESS WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO THE CARTOONS OF BAUER AND ZAPIRO (1985-1990)”, and was submitted to the University of Cape Town in January 1991.
In recent conversation with him, he downplayed the success of the interview, feeling that he had inadequately appreciated the independence of Bauer as a voice. He felt that he had been side-tracked by his investigations at the time as to whether cartoons could be positioned as a radical art practice or not, and his then belief that artists should take sides.
Be that as it may, it is my opinion that his Bauer interview is the finest one recorded. On re-reading it recently - I was struck by its’ accuracy and relevance, and how succinctly and pertinently it revealed the man, the country and the circumstances which informed his drawings.
The reading of the interview is uncannily current and insightful, personal and candid, and thus accurately contextualises much of Bauer’s work. A highly recommended read after a not insignificant passage of time. Mario Pissarra currently lives and works in Cape Town.
Mario Pissarra’s full dissertation can be viewed in the Hidding Hall Library, UCT. To read the interview please click on the link below.
Mario Pissaro and Derek Bauer