Obituary: Joyce Leonard

Joyce Leonard, artist and teacher: born Johannesburg 29 June 1909; married 1942 David Davis (died 1981; one son); died Johannesburg 24 June 1993.

JOYCE LEONARD was the mentor of several generations of South African artists. Her ability to inspire and encourage creativity in others was an art-form in itself; ex-students and artist friends, now spread all over the world, still carry her influence.

Among her former students are Cecil Skotness, known for his woodcut prints with strong African imagery, Eduardo Villa, the abstract sculptor, and Deanna Petherbridge, an artist now based in London. Geoffrey Armstrong, the prolific abstract and figurative artist, now spends half his life in Britain and works on mural commissions. Paul Stopforth, one of the most political of Joyce Leonard's students, did work on the Biko inquest, and now lives in Boston, dealing with similar issues from the personal psychological point of view.

Leonard was born in Johannesburg, but trained in London, at the Royal College of Art, and returned for a period of painting during the late 1940s when she exhibited with the London Group. (Can it be true, as I remember her telling, that she had contrived to be locked into the Victoria and Albert Museum when she had nowhere to sleep?)

Joyce Leonard was a strong and stylish presence in an admittedly small but vigorous artistic community. The character of the Transvaal where she lived is harsher and more confrontational, in terms of art as much as politics, than the other areas of South Africa. Political tensions became an inspiration and a focus for South African artists of the past few decades, even more than they were a hindrance and source of limitation. Politics, particularly in the Transvaal, has energised art, theatre, literature, journalism.

This sort of energy sparked around the luncheon parties Joyce Leonard was famous for: at first in her beautiful farmhouse outside Johannesburg, an oasis in the midst of dust and aloes; later, when suburbia encroached and a highway bisected the farm, in a tiny bungalow on the edge of a steep cliff. The claustrophobia of a small cultural centre isolated from its neighbours in Africa and ostracised by most of the rest of the world created a pressure-cooker situation which forced artists into closer contact with themselves, their work and each other. This generated a somewhat Chekhovian atmosphere - a small group of intense people arguing out their ideas while outside the circle the real dramas were grinding to a conclusion. Leonard, with her clear, unambiguous perceptions, was often like the rudder in a storm, an unofficial arbiter and leader of opinion.

Her creative energy was channelled into her teaching, which took place in private studio visits as well as art classes - she was endlessly generous and supportive to her many painter friends - and her position as adviser to the buying committee of the Johannesburg Art Gallery. She guided and prodded this otherwise recalcitrant group into acquiring works that she believed in. She herself stopped painting in the 1950s because in her view she 'wasn't good enough'. A discreet painting of hers of a vase of flowers used to hang in a corner of the Johannesburg Art Gallery, an embarrassment to the artist.

Her creativity as a teacher never stopped developing. She is remembered by a colleague in the Fine Art Department of the University of Witwatersrand, Cecily Sash, as 'astonishingly open-minded but critical. Both as a teacher and friend she was generous in praise but ruthless in her rejection of the mediocre and safe. She expected one to confront the new, take risks, forgo the comfortable so that truly creative ideas could germinate and grow.'

To encourage this, she incorporated music, touch, and aspects of science into her drawing classes. Instead of conventional art jargon she used vocabulary you might expect in a poetry or literature class. She enjoyed teaching people who were outside the sometimes predictable confines of academic fine art - architecture students, design students, people who had never drawn before. Joyce Leonard acted as a catalyst, connecting people with each other, stirring up ideas and opening up areas of creativity in the minds of her friends and those she taught.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot