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The Errol Boyley Centenary Exhibition is the flagship of this year’s festival.

The official opening of the Ramsgate Book & Art Festival takes place on Thursday 2nd August at 6pm at Artists’ Gallery in the heart of Ramsgate. This also serves as the opening of the prestigious and historical art exhibition entitled Boyley’s World - a centenary celebration of the life and works of South African master painter Errol Boyley. This is very fitting as Errol Boyley along with Tittal Fasciotti, WH Coetzer and Walter Battis are but a few names synonymous with the area and serve as a rich inspiration for various art forms, which have blossomed in this region. Artists’ Gallery was the original Gallery where Errol and his wife Jocelyn exhibited his work – a historical exhibition indeed!

Errol Boyley

Errol Boyley Centenary Exhibition - By Jocelyn Boyley Beautiful words written by Errol’s wife presently residing in the beautiful Natal Midlands

Errol Boyley 1918 – 2007

I first saw paintings by Errol in the Gaze Gallery in Ramsgate on the KZN South Coast in 1971. I knew about him but had never met him. He had recently returned from a trip to Madagascar and the paintings that I saw that day were scenes from Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar). I was stunned by the beautiful scenes in these paintings.

A couple of landscapes depicting life with cattle and figures working in the rice paddy fields near the city and two or three paintings were figure studies including one of a mother with a child on her back. I was amazed at the workmanship in the figures, the clarity of colour and how his paintings stood out with their soft brilliance.

Little did I know that within two years in 1976 I would be married the master of this genre, and one of South Africa’s leading painters of the time.

Errol was born in Pietermaritzburg at the end of first world war on the 28th July 1918 and was the eldest of three sons. He was educated in Pietermaritzburg and showed an early aptitude for drawing. As a young man, he spent time in Zululand walking and sketching. At the outbreak of the second World War he enlisted and served with the Natal Field Artillery. In the mid-40’s he attended life classes at The Art School in Durban which was the only artistic education he ever received.

While in the army, a friend had taught him to play the guitar which ultimately gave him the opportunity to join a dance band. He then moved to JHB and became a nightclub musician, however, it was at this time that the overwhelming urge to paint took over his life direction. His job allowed him to paint during the day, and his nights were taken up with music. He spent hours visiting the National Art Gallery and other galleries that had opened in JHB and absorbed all that interested him. In 1948, he decided to move to Knysna to follow his dream of becoming a full time painter. Here he met W.G. Wiles who became a friend and mentor.

W.G. Wiles was already a well-known land and seascape artist who had relocated to Knysna from England after the war. Well into his 70’s, he immediately saw the talent in a young Errol whom he enjoyed immensely as an enthusiastic student and visitor. In the early 1950’s, Errol was recognised as an up and coming landscape painter in the art world and was being sought after by various galleries. As the years rolled by, his name became known throughout South Africa, his work also hangs in many homes abroad. He was prominently featured in group exhibitions and ultimately one man shows. Eventually he and his then wife Aileen moved and settled in Ramsgate and his work was exhibited in the Gaze Gallery.

Errol and Aileen divorced and although he did not have children, with the blessings of my daughters we married in April 1976. In 1978, we opened the Errol Boyley Gallery in Ramsgate, and this is now known as The Artist’s Gallery which is a joint venture of 8 artists and sculptors all of whom are well known and enjoyed by art lovers. It is wonderful that they are celebrating Errol’s Centenary at the Gallery during the month of August. Errol and I left the South Coast to live in Pietermaritzburg in 1985 at the height of his painting career. He loved our many trips to the Cape, the Karoo, Knysna and the Natal Midlands and produced some of his finest works over the next 20 years.

Errol’s painting life spanned over 60 years, he was prolific and versatile. You cannot mistake a Boyley painting! His use of colour, eye for detail and approach to his subject was entirely and uniquely Errol (Particularly his method of executing the unresolved foreground). It is a compliment to him that many an artist has followed in his style, however there can only be one Errol Boyley. He always said that he wanted to die with his brushes in his hand and he got his wish at the age of 89 at the end of 2007. He suffered a stroke and died shortly thereafter.

I had 32 wonderful years with him. Being 15 years younger, it has taken me a little time to catch up! Now at 85, I look back at the years we had together which fate so kindly gave us. Errol was an extremely generous and kind tutor and mentor to many people over the years, (including myself on an ongoing basis). He was loved by his contemporaries, many of whom became close friends. His great friend and fellow painter Adriaan Boschoff died within a fortnight of Errol’s demise. Amongst his other artist friends were Dino Paravano, Titta Fasciatti, Walter Westbrook, Chris Tugwell, Willem Coetzer and Ruth Squib (who was also tutored by Errol), Gabriel deJong, Gwelo Goodman, Boonzaier, and in the latter years, Anton Benzon.

I would like to finish this with his own words which he dictated to me when I published his biography in 2004 when he was 86 and still painting prolifically:

“When I was in my late 20’s, I was obsessed by the desire to paint but felt that in order to do so, I would have to live by it. A few people realised what I was trying to achieve and were prepared to invest in my work. This gave me the incentive to continue. To think that some members of the public would spend their hard-earned money to buy one of my paintings was and still is the greatest honour.

A short while ago, a young student asked me what I envisaged for the future. I said that as I am 86 years old, I have left the future behind. To fellow artists and friends, I thank them for their affection. I also give thanks to my agents and the galleries who have promoted me over the years, and of course the collectors.”

As the years roll by, the name Errol Boyley will certainly have a place among the names of the great artists that stand as Proudly South African.

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