Battiss, Walter

WALTER BATTISS [ 1906 – 1982 ]

Walter Whall Battiss first became interested in archaeology and primitive art as a young boy. Born in 1906 to an English Methodist family in the Karoo town of Somerset East, Battiss had drawn and painted since his childhood and further developed his interests when he began his formal art studies in 1929 at the Wits Tech Art School. He specialized in drawing and painting, and later acquired a teaching diploma from the Johannesburg Training College. While studying, Battiss worked as a magistrate’s clerk at the Magistrate Court in Rustenburg, and at the age of 35 had successfully completed his Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts at UNISA.

Battiss was a founding member of the New Group, yet was the only member who had not studied overseas. In 1938 he visited Europe for the first time and in the late 40s met with contemporaries Picasso and Futurist Gino Severini, both of whom strongly influenced his work. Curiously, Battiss was one of the first South African artists to ever represent rock art from a purely aesthetic point of view, and he later held an exhibition of copies of rock paintings in 1944. He even ventured out into the Namib Desert where he lived amongst the Bushmen for a time.

Battiss visited Greece from 1966 to 1968, and the Seychelles in 1972. It was here that he created ‘Fook Island’, an imaginary world that Battiss constructed; with its own map, imaginary people, plants and animals.

Battiss continued to teach and produce art throughout his life, and remained preoccupied with primitive rock art, Ndebele beadwork, pre- Islamic cultures and calligraphy. By the end of his life he had published countless articles, nine books, and founded the periodical De Art.

Born: Somerset East, Eastern Cape, South Africa, 1906
DIED: Port Shepstone, Natal, South Africa, 1982.

Training: 1929: Studied at Wits Tech Art School followed by the Johannesburg Technical College. 1941: Completed Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts at UNISA.

Awards: 1956: Awarded the Pro Arte Medal by the University of Pretoria. 1964: Medal of Honour of South African Akademie. 1973: Honourary D. Litt. et Phil. from UNISA.

References:

1956: Awarded the Pro Arte Medal by the University of Pretoria. 1964: Medal of Honour of South African Akademie. 1973: Honourary D. Litt. et Phil. from UNISA.

Johans Borman Fine art, Artist Biographies: Walter Battiss. http://www.johansborman.co.za/artist-biographies/battiss-walter/