After high school, I went to the Johannesburg College of Art (now University of Johannesburg, FADA), and in 1974 I obtained the National Art Teacher’s Diploma. It is a four year course, but after completing three years I took a year off to go preaching around the country. After six months of preaching, I landed in a compulsory military camp where I met with trouble because I was ‘spreading subversive ideas’ to the men. I then decided to complete my fourth and final year of studies and after I spent the remaining six months of 1973 teaching at Jeppe High School for Boys as a substitute teacher, I resumed my studies. My parents paid for my studies up to a point and I had to supplement their contribution by earning money in the teaching of part-time classes. The school of art offered a night school and I taught painting and drawing on two nights a week. I also taught Afrikaans for two nights a week at the old Witwatersrand Technical College – one Afrikaans class was for immigrant beginners and the other class was as second language for matriculants.
I was very much drawn to teaching and because the art school did not offer sculpture as part of the night school program I started my own classes. I drew my students from the night school I was already teaching and I carried on with my own small night school when I was appointed as full-time teacher at Parktown Boys’ High School in 1975. I got permission from Mr. Jimmy Cameron, the head of the school, to clear out lots of coal and rubble from a basement at the school and to use this as my own sculpture classroom.
Because more and more people joined my night school, I rented the old horse stables in Parktown, across the road from the Park Lane clinic. An art school needs quite a bit of space and the stables were ideal for this. They were in fact so large that my first wife, Denise, and I move in and lived there for about a year. In 1977 I was appointed as full-time lecturer at the Johannesburg College of Art and I abandoned my private classes.
While working and living in the old stables I made many sculptures. One project comprised of thirteen small metal objects made from old bolts and other bits of steel. All thirteen these objects fitted into a large plastic peanut butter jar. I stashed them away and thirty years later, in 2007, I decided to remake two of them in large format. The thirteen objects are somewhat fish-like or tool-like and because they are also a little erotic, I called them ‘fishy’. As tool-like objects they play on the adage that “man is the product of the tool” – meaning that “we made our tools and thereafter our tools made us.” As sexually charged objects they propose the word ‘tool’ ambiguously as the procreative membrum virilum. In 2008 they were, as a group, sold to collector Emile Stip under the ironic title FISHY TOOLS. At first the two most fish-like objects amongst these were sculpted in larger forms out of two solid stumps of kiaat left to me by my father, Martiens Boshoff, who died in 1985. My son Martin (24), his grandson, proved very capable in this sculpting process and later assisted in the remake of all the BLIND FISH pieces.
Some of the BLIND FISH pieces draw on the sculptures I made for my BLIND ALPHABET PROJECT.I made the thirty new sculptures of this project for my 2007 Michael Stevenson exhibition and these included one piece that, before finished, looked like the backbone of a fish without its fishbones. The original sculpture was entitled ECHINO-COSTATE, suggesting that in its completed state it might have spine-like ribs. For BLIND FISH III, I resculpted this unfinished piece in much larger format, still without the spines and placed it erect on its base.
Because the large wooden ‘fish’ are smooth to the touch and reminiscent of some of the sculptures I made for my BLIND ALPHABET PROJECT, I decided to put a line of Braille text on each. The title BLIND FISH plays with the fact that they are tangible and that their texts can only be read by the blind. By exploring and ‘reading’ the works at their fingertips, blind visitors are encouraged to help sighted visitors to take greater pleasure in these strange fish. The I, II, III, etc. simply reflect the order in which they were made.Braille texts were chosen because of their socio-political re-affirmation of blind people in the world.