A fascination for eccentrics and artists

2009-03-25 00:00

THIS is a curious hybrid of a book, partly explained by its subtitle: A Portrait of Eccentricity. One part is autobiographical and is Pat Hopkins’s own journey from an alarming childhood in the Drakensberg which included being present when his father was killed in a shoot-out with the drugs squad. He even spent some time as an articled clerk at a law firm in Pietermaritzburg — there are people here who still remember him. The other is the story of the book he tried to write. This was to be the biography of John Anthony Boerma, aka the artist Johnny Golightly. Hopkins wanted to parallel Golightly’s reinvention of himself with South Africa’s reinvention as a country post 1994. It was to be a triumphant tale.

Hopkins is fascinated by eccentricity and outsiders. He writes of a visit to Helen Martins at the Owl House in Nieu Bethesda and to other outsider artists, of how their aim of changing the world eventually distils down to only changing their own immediate environment, and the catastrophic effects this failure has on them.

Hopkins wants to be taken seriously as a chronicler of the eccentric, but tells how his publishers see him as a writer of potboilers, of magazine articles on individual eccentrics, of books on South Africa’s ghosts. There is a curious subtext here — Hopkins seems to be saying both in his writing and in the subtitle: “Look at me. I’m eccentric too, unappreciated, and I too attempted suicide along the way.” And in the meantime, Johnny Golightly/John Anthony Boerma lies and evades and continually slips out of Hopkins’ grasp.

At times you feel like saying to both the author and his protagonist — go away and reinvent yourselves in someone else’s time, not mine. But for the most part this is an interesting experiment, if only partially successful. And it encapsulates the greatest problem of both biography and autobiography. How much can we believe, and what of the bits that have been omitted?

Margaret von Klemperer

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.