Paul du Toit: Brown abstract
Paul du Toit (1922- 1986)
Brown abstract - 1964
Oil on canvasboard
62 x 92 cm
Signed and dated bottom right
Paul du Toit has been described as a painter poet, while his very analytical approach has been paralleled to that of a scientist. The artist contemplated each work meticulously before expressing his findings his own pictorial language.
A competent violinist, Du Toit found it difficult to decide if he wanted to pursue music or art as a career. Discouraged by the curriculum and formal atmosphere of the Michaelis School of Art in Cape Town, it took some convincing by both Du Toit and his parents for Jean Welz to take him on as his only private student. Welz’s teaching approach seemed to be very informal, leaving his student to learn mostly from observation and experiment. Du Toit recalled: I think nostalgically about the endless hours in which we wandered about without words through the veld around Worcester and just allowed the little and larger things in nature to talk to us and carry us along into that metaphysical ecstasy of discovery. In this way he awakened in me an ongoing urge to be constantly aware (Martin, 2004, p 11).
This relationship between student and mentor had a lasting philosophical and stylistic influence on Du Toit’s career. Martin notes: For most of his artistic life he had been preoccupied with an analysis of the visible and invisible in the physical world. He had described hidden aspects of nature, making explicit the implicit forces and structures of the world .
Du Toit was greatly inspired by pure non-figurative abstraction during his extensive stay in Paris from 1955 to 1958. The works produced on his return showed a shift to complete abstraction, resulting in a fragmentation of the tightly interlinked cell-like structures he had painted in Paris. Although his paintings no longer referred to a specific place, they expressed the mood of the landscape, their earthy hues and energetic brushstrokes mimicking the contours of the land. As Martin notes: Although the South African landscape provided the origin and the sustaining link between paintings made over four decades, his preoccupation was not to paint the landscape in and of itself. Rather, the landscape paintings acted as the field notes, the primary observations and starting points for his later investigation and interpretations .
One of Du Toit’s greatest influences was his interest in opposing forces which he recognised everywhere in nature. He was also fascinated by the currents resulting from these opposing forces, and produced a series of paintings entitled ‘Current’ to investigate the theme – ‘Brown Abstract’ is a later example of this period. Martin sheds some light on what the artist wanted to convey: … he escaped the constraints of a finite picture space fixed in time by giving the viewer a multiple representation and a multiple interpretation of the same basic idea: current in motion. And through all of this he maintained the essential sense of a continuous flux in all four dimensions .
Kevan Martin, Paul du Toit: A Painter’s Journey , Vlaeberg, 2004, pp 5, 6, 11, 59, 62, 87 and 90