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TRIBUTE TO DERYCK HEALEY (article first published : 2005-02-6)

The acclaimed Durban-based artist Deryck Healey died towards the end of last year. The following is an obituary by his close friend and colleague, well-known Durban artist Marianne Meijer:

For Deryck Healey art meant life. Art meant inspiration and ideas. His strength came from his ability to communicate his work in a positive and creative way - whether it was sculpture, drawing, or creating a design or colour – his vision was original and cut through the essentials to become meaningful.

“I need to find a way through, to cut away the cynicism of our contemporary world and discover a true awareness. I am searching for a world consciousness through an art of concern.” These are words, by Deryck Healey, from his book Open Studio, which unfolds as a series of visual poems that record his journey towards a new spirituality that transcends racial, sexual and political conflicts.

The book and the many exhibitions Healey staged depict a lifetime dedicated to art making.

Healey was born in Durban in 1937, studied fine art the Durban Tech School of Art and Design, where he was awarded the Victorian League Empire Scholarship to continue his studies overseas. Among the many awards he received were the Queen’s Award to Industry. He lectured and held major exhibitions in many countries, and set up his own design studios in Paris, New York, Sydney and London. He was a man of the world, involved in cultural and environmental projects, and became Visiting Professor of Colour at the Royal Academy. His CV is long and impressive.

In 1997 Healey settled back in Durban. Although he still traveled much, Durban became his home base. During that period he staged three exhibitions locally, and one in Cape Town, which made the art world here sit up and take notice.

He will be best remembered in Durban for his Back to Front sculpture exhibition paying homage to the ancient Kouros figures, staged at the NSA in 1998. He contacted the art school when he settled back in Durban and worked with students and lecturers from Technikon (DIT), who assisted him and became involved with his work and benefited from his creative output and expertise.

Head of Fine Art (DIT) John Roome said: “Deryck Healy was an alumnus of the art school in Durban now DIT.He studied here as a young man and then went off to make his name overseas. In 1997 he returned in order to hold an exhibition at the NSA Gallery. This project was what reunited him with his Alma Mater. It was his idea to involve a number of artists and students connected to the art department in the production. Durban art lovers will remember the way he transformed the NSA with his magical use of colour, how he filled the space with life size figures in resin and his prints and drawings done on rhino paper.

“It was through the production of this paper that I came to know Deryck. He worked in my studio with some of my students.What impressed me was his playfulness and the speed with which he caught on to what was for him a new medium. His legacy will live on not only through his work but through the experiences and creative spirit he so generously shared with others,” said Roome.

For Healey the most important thing in his life was work, and making art was his work. Even during last year (2004), when he was already seriously ill, he made hundreds or drawings which were shown at the ArtSpaceDurban gallery in May, 2004.

His favourite artist was Picasso. Healey’s line drawing showed a similar deftness and stability of line where he transformed the ordinary and enhanced the particular. He was a man with a glittering personality able to inspire all who worked with him. His work stimulated thought and provoked reaction.

Art Collector Donald Hess, who owns many of Healey’s works, is building a museum at the Glencarlou Winery in the Cape to house his personal collection of Healey’s work for permanent display.

On April 13, 2005, a Memorial Service in Deryck Healey’s honour will be held in London’s St Bartholomew the Great Church in Spitalfield, to be followed with the opening of a minor Retrospective Exhibition at the Blue Gallery.




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