Graham Leslie McCallum

The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man

Biography – Graham Leslie McCallum

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Graham Leslie McCallum zx (2)

I was born in the city of Kimberley, South Africa, in 1966, the middle child in a family of seven children. My early family life was a vibrant mix of laughter and play, the rumble-tumble of brothers and cousins, playing pranks on neighbours, birthday parties, a kitchen that produced some of the finest food this side of Cairo, and of course – drawing and painting. In reflection, Mom and Dad must have spent a fortune keeping us supplied with colouring-in books, pencils, crayons, paints and paper.

Creativity, in my family, was an activity that took pre-eminence above other pursuits. I have vivid memories of my first drawing lessons from my mother, memories of the warm satisfaction I experienced while colouring-in a picture, and the excitement of carving animals out of hard green soap. Every occasion, from birthdays and Easter, to Father’s day and Christmas, was an occasion to make cards for loved ones.

While I was happily colouring-in my picture books and brushing paper in bright colours, in a very real sense, I was colouring-in the planes of my personality and painting my future life. This bright and joyful beginning has stayed with me and been my constant and faithful companion.

If you live in South Africa, then wide open spaces are never far away, and the city of Kimberley is surrounded by the semi arid planes of the Northern Cape. Here the flat crowned thorn trees are deeply rooted in the pebbled earth, seed-eating birds fly in flocks of thousands and the veldt is frequented by springbuck, meercats and Cape cobras. This environment has and still does have a profound influence on me.

When the family moved to Northern Natal, I was introduced to rolling green grasslands and the Drakensberg mountains. My three brothers and myself ran wild and free after school and on weekends. My days were spent wandering the veldt, climbing mountains, swimming the rivers and cycling the farm roads. Most of my formative years were spent close to nature, and having an artistic disposition, it resulted in the urge to record the natural world. I spent many hours during my teens, walking the hills looking for wild flowers to paint and draw, or painting the sun setting behind the mountains.

As varied as the natural world, so too are the people, languages and cultures of my country, and an upbringing in South Africa at this time frame, was attendant with all its blessings and challenges.

Perhaps, South Africans of an English background have not disconnected themselves from their ancestral homeland. For this reason, Natal is often called the “last British outpost”. This connection to Europe and its cultural traditions is a strong one, and it has been and remains mine by upbringing. This curiosity about the world out there has engendered in me a fascination for the history, arts, crafts and styles of other peoples, past and present.

I share my world with many people, from Afrikaners, the San, Sothos, Xhosas, Indians, Coloureds, to the Zulus. There cannot be many places on the globe with as many people of different races and cultures. This environment, can never be boring to a creative person, because the variety, contrast, friction, humour and harmony is an amazing stimulant.

I have spent the last 23 years residing with my long-time partner River in the subtropical city of Durban that borders the warm Indian Ocean. This city is a vibrant mix of ethnicity and languages, a complex mix of first and third world, where poverty rubs shoulders roughly with wealth, and colonial heritages are sometimes in sharp contrast to indigenous ones. This great diversity amid our common humanity, is a constant challenge to my sensibilities, an extraordinary rich source of inspiration to me as a researcher, designer, author and artist.

A typical day in my life starts early at sunrise, then it is straight into my studio and to work. Much of my work and activity is research. Creating books requires that I spend vast amounts of time in libraries poring through books, and even longer spells at my desk drawing and writing. I have always had a penchant for making collections and this has extended to collecting designs from historic and cultural sources. Unfortunately, there never seems to be enough time in a day to finish all that I have to do. The result is that I often find myself working through into the early hours of the morning.

Any spare time that I have is spent playing the piano, photography, gardening, conversing with my Maker, or at family get-togethers.

Graham Leslie McCallum class 2, age 7 Graham Leslie McCallum vv

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