DEREK BAUER (1992-2001)
THE LAST DECADE
"A personal account. "
"I met Derek at a party in 1992. He was working as a cartoonist for the Weekly Mail, the Argus and the Star Newspapers. I don’t think it was ever a case of a meeting of true minds – we would continue to squabble about art until the end. He was highly suspicious of Conceptual art and took my interest in it as tantamount to traitorous. He refused to be “hoodwinked by a group of talentless charlatans” as he liked to call the so- called cutting-edge. If nothing else, he certainly spoke his mind, which could make him somewhat of a liability at a party or gathering. Other than this minor “elephant in the room” we were inseparable. But it said a lot about his high regard for technical skill and craftsmanship, and his insistence that nothing less than mastery over the discipline of illustration was necessary when it came to using the medium as a tool for his expression. This marriage of content and form was very important to him and is what sets his best work apart from his peers was really his astonishing ability with his penmanship. He loved the work of Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman, but less obvious, was his real regard and admiration for Goya and George Grosz.
He had been married to Susan de Villiers, an intellectual force in her own right. She wrote the copy for his book “SA Flambe – and other Recipes for Disaster” which brilliantly contextualised his Cartoons. Their son Harry, was six years old when we met and was a delight in every way – curious, precocious, loving and energetic. His second son Max was born shortly afterwards. Derek and I were married in 1997 and two little girls followed, Sophie and Olivia. Derek adored all his children and his studio was never out of bounds. He spent endless patient hours drawing with them and having office chair races, where he’d push them around on his wheeled chair with everyone screaming and going crazy. He loved having the babies in the house and was forever giving them idiotic names and speaking to them in weird accents. His idea of baby-sitting was to drape a baby over his left shoulder and watch the rugby. He was very calm with them. I never witnessed any outdoor sporting activity as such – I remember him once going so far as to say he thought running was uncouth. Derek’s idea of sport was watching it on TV and his favourite activity when travelling overseas was to sit in a café and draw people. If there were any campaniles to be scaled I was on my own.
People would ask me if he was a “hard” man – the cartoons were certainly violent. On the contrary- he had a huge heart, spoke in low tones and he always made a point of telling his sons how wonderful and clever their mothers were. I never heard him speak badly of, or complain about his ex-wives to his children. He was never petty about money either. He did on one occasion relinquish a friendship over a seemingly insignificant incident, and no amount of reasoning could persuade him to apologise. This was uncharacteristic though of his usually easy going manner. It did refer though to a side of him which struggled to find contentment – Derek was deliberate in movement and his thinking was methodical. The cogs ground slowly but continually. I suppose we all have our demons.
Derek loved food and drink and a good party. He had an amazing variety of friends and despite the fact that we were never terribly well off, we behaved like rock-stars. That was Joburg for you. He had an extraordinary work ethic, choosing to work in less than “professional” attire, (his dressing gown) and always from home. I never recall him ever missing a deadline. Cartooning however, was proving less than lucrative. It was also extremely time consuming and Derek often mused that he needed to do something in addition to cartooning – ie: to use his images in a way which would make money “while he was sleeping”. To reproduce his images onto merchandise which could be sold over and over again. This thinking led to the “Joburg Years”. He joined forces with a formidable team involved with retail, and developed a wide range of images to be used on commercial products aimed at the tourism industry. He was allocated shares in the company which was later floated on the stock exchange, which would finally put him in a lucrative enough position to consider moving back to the Cape.
We began looking for property in 1998 and finally bought a small piece of land in Elgin. We left Johannesburg three weeks after our second daughter was born in 2001. It was on this undeveloped 35 hectares of land in Elgin that he planned to build a house and start a new phase. Working commercially had achieved its financial goals but Derek was keenly aware of his “Faustian Pact” in terms of the toll it had taken on his “art”. In any event the timing was good. The New South Africa in the early years couldn’t compete in terms of material, with the brutality, stupidity and cruelty that had characterised Apartheid and the Nationalist Government of the State of Emergency Era. FW de Klerk was winning Nobel Prizes for peace for heaven’s sake! Pickings for the cartoonist were slim indeed.
The return of the “glint in the eye’’ factor turned out to be the ill- fated 9/11. We were living in a rented cottage bordering the land we had bought and had just begun building. All our possessions were in storage and Derek would work with a small short-wave radio as his constant companion. When the news broke, Derek was beside himself and immediately drew a sketch of Bin Laden and faxed it to his brother living in America. This was the last cartoon.
He was tragically killed at around 6pm on the 16th December 2001 in a car accident. He was travelling alone."