"Birth and travel
I was born in Bristol, England, in 1957. My father, Eric Rautenbach, was a pilot and my mother, Jennie, was a physical training instructor in the RAF. The year I was born, my father was sent to Germany as part of the NATO occupational forces, where he crashed his jet and died during an exercise. My sister Anya was two years old.
My mother, my sister and I travelled to South Africa to live near my grandparents. It was in South Africa that my mother met and later married my father’s brother, Theo Rautenbach. We went to live with him in Kitwe, Zambia, and later Benoni, Newcastle and Pretoria in South Africa. He was a smoker and after several years of unhappy marriage died of lung cancer. I had gained Louise and André – simultaneously my step-siblings, my cousins ánd brother and sister.
On a voyage back from visiting friends and family in England, my mother met Robbie (Arthur) Roberts. They were married in Durban, Robbie adopted me and my three siblings and we all moved to Tanga, Tanzania. After a relatively stable four and a half years we moved to East London, South Africa. It was here that I finished my schooling by failing matric.
Boy becomes man
I became a fireman in East London simply because my dad kicked me out of the house and the fire department was a short distance away and the job came with accommodation. After two years I resigned and went to Phalaborwa to visit a friend. There I worked as an assistant in a dairy for five months, but when my friend resigned, so did I.
I went back to East London. I had inherited a small amount of money from my grandmother, so managed to do very little but fish, dive, hang around pubs and drink beer for seven months.
When the money was spent I went to Durban. I joined the railways and drove extra heavy trucks long distance. By hanging around the depot all day and driving all night, I managed to accrue a lot of overtime.
The Rhodes years
Unable to spend all the money I’d earned, I decided to go to university. I visualised a sort of long holiday, with lots of socialising at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. I never expected to succeed, and a university drop-out is better than a failed matriculant.
I initially registered for a Journalism degree and had to obtain special permission to take extra subjects: Fine Art and Philosophy. This time at Rhodes changed my life. I was interested in and excited about my studies and I worked hard. I was respected. I discovered that I was not as stupid as I had thought and not everyone who went to university was a genius. I became confident. I had a great social life and was in one town for 9 years. I was fulfilled and happy.
Passing my first year presented a dilemma. I had planned to drop out and now was about to run out of money. The problem was solved as in my first year in art school I learned pottery. Art in the Park in Port Elizabeth provided an outlet and the income derived from my flops, experiments and early efforts surprised me and was able to sustain me. In my fourth year I was given a job running a seismograph, which greatly eased the financial uncertainty.
Me, the teacher
I graduated from Rhodes in 1985, winning the Purvis Prize for the best student, and was given academic half colours. On graduating I became a graduate assistant and later a junior lecturer at Rhodes University. Since then I have lectured in the Fine Art Departments at the Universities of Durban-Westville and for a short period the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. In 1993 I received my Masters’ Degree in Fine Art. All in all, I lectured for eight years.
Art and life
Looking back, art was an obvious choice, as I have always made things. As a child I made clay pots from mud in the yard, cars from cardboard, and dragons from paper-maché. I enjoyed attending Elaine Savages’ art lessons during my school holidays. However, at De La Salle where I finished my schooling there weren’t any art classes. This – and the fact that I am attention deficient – may explain my appalling terrorist-like behaviour, general disinterest and failure at that school.
As an adult my interest in art continued. I carved leather goods in the Fire Department, wooden bookshelves in Phalaborwa and painted fantasy landscapes whilst a truck driver.
In 1995 I became a full time artist, and that is where I am today."