|1933, born in London, England
|Died March 21st 2023
Dances with rainbows, written by Peter A. Marschel,
There was a world vision that originated in Cape Town called District Six. Since I did not travel to South Africa till after apartheid had ended, I did not experience personally the anticipation that led to the Rainbow Nation we know today; instead, I went, like all tourists, to the District Six Museum to find out more. I was confronted with a host of colourful yet down-to-earth information boards: facts upon facts all displayed like in any museum.
The best way to make history experiential in retrospect is by reflecting on the art produced at the time. South Africa’s arts scene at the time offered so many opportunities. I especially remember the Grahamstown Festival that followed the first free elections on the Cape: I recall the contemplative mood of renewal of the artists, who like the public at large were still undecided about taking the road of a smooth evolution or a bloody revolution. And there was Athol Fugard, whom I got to know at a dinner, who admitted that just because apartheid was gone and with it the established concept of the enemy, life had not suddenly become easier. In such an exceptional social situation, a return to District Six was not just a nostalgic concept; it was necessary in order to gain a sense of orientation for the construction of the new South Africa.
I imagine that is what Derek Drake had in mind when he painted his picture DISTRICT SIX. The picture was exhibited in 1999 at the AVA Gallery and in I was looking for this sort of art that can tell stories and build bridges. Other artists around the Cape had done this sort of thing before: Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba became ambassadors of the District Six vision. And while Derek Drake was painting his variations on RAVE, Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo proved with their GRACELAND project that there were opportunities to stir up the social process with art.
That said, Paul Simon’s music is no more propaganda than Derek Drake’s painting. As a sensitive artist, he incorporates what he has experienced, sounds and colours into his own rainbow, combining the most diverse genres and cultures, just like Hughes de Courson and Pierre Akendengue did on their wonderful album LAMBARENA. Bach as an African composer: what a vision. And it worked, without anyone asking whether Europe unfairly copied African art or above all was inspired by it. In Derek Drake’s work, this mixture has developed into something all its own.
He mixed many colours from many sources on his palette: always a good portion of Africa, a little Bach (Derek was enthusiastic about the performances of the Zurich Ballet, that danced Heinz Spoerli’s GOLDBERG’S VARIATION in Cape Town), and then after the fabulous Standard Bank exhibition a bit of Picasso; definitely something of the dancing Jikeleza children from Hout Bay, and of course late Davit Hewitt’s AFRICAN TAPESTRY and lots of colours from Table Mountain. Matisse has to be in there too: Derek Drake’s ATLANTIS was re-framed in a Basel museum and for a moment, there was his picture, next to a number of Rothkos and, in fact, next to Matisse’s famous DANCE painting. Voilà!
Derek painted Rave as his expression of protest against the violent end of District Six. The Cape Town vision lives on because artists like him rail against forgetting. When, in faraway Switzerland, I view his RAVE or ATLANTIS, I see more than a two-dimensional image of his wonderful but troubled world, because for me, Derek Drake makes the rainbow dance above the Cape.
Dream now, dream not, the annual Winter Solstice Exhibition, The Cape Gallery, 2017
Derek explores the primitive world of the ‘shape and space’ together with light, colour, texture and the spiritual world.
Born in London, Derek studied at Hornsey School of Arts & Crafts, the Central School of Art and the London School of Printing and Graphic Design. He began his career at Smee's Advertising in London before leaving for Africa, where he worked in the top agencies in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Nairobi as creative artist and art director.
Deciding to make Cape Town his base, he realised an ambition by forming his own agency, but found managing the business left no time for his art. He traveled extensively in Africa, living simply, absorbing colours and shapes, the movement and rhythm of the African Landscape, and assimilating the symbolism and traditions of the people he encountered. He lived for a time in Kenya, Uganda. Tanzania and the (then) Belgian Congo, making friends along the way.
The experience of his African travels deeply influenced Derek's works and has had a lasting impact on his life. The simplicity is deceptive - there is so much implied - so much intricate meaning within the African shapes and the African culture. Throughout his travels Derek made notes and sketches; on his return to South Africa he set about creating expansive canvasses. With design and texture being of vital importance, he so decided that another dimension was needed to convey all he wanted to express, and so began his series of sculptures, concentrating as always on African shapes and traditions; and again the simplicity of design belies the depth of symbolism contained in the work.
In the late ' 60s Derek was appalled at the decision to raze District Six (where he had a studio). He subsequently produced an evocative series of paintings and serigraphs of District Six, recording this once vibrant part of Cape Town.
"In my wanderings through the streets, alleys and lanes that made
up this extraordinary area, I was amazed at the beautiful architecture,"
he says, "the people have a character and style of their own, always
friendly and eager to invite you into their ever open doors. Save from
the people of District Six themselves, there was no protest. Those who
could and should have stopped the rape of Cape Town did nothing. I saw
men working on Sunday nights by floodlight, demolishing homes.
Derek believes strongly that the natural artistic talent abounding in Africa must be nurtured and brought to its full potential. "The leaders of the Renaissance in Europe were artists, sculptors, thinkers and philosophers - the African Renaissance should be driven by the same forces" Derek's ambition is to create an environment - an African Artists studio village - where talented African artists and sculptors can 'grow' their natural ability and develop their own individual style by benefiting from advice without artificial constraints.
Besides his paintings and sculptures, Derek also creates serigraphs, ceramics, a range of African traditional wear and hand woven clothes and garments.
Gallery hours: Mon to Fri: 9h30 to 17h00, Sat: 10h00 to 14h00
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60 CHURCH STREET CAPE TOWN 8001, TEL: +27 21 4235309, FAX: +27 21 4249063