It's not particularly difficult to imagine how the Glen High School in Pretoria was able to bring out "total Johnny Rottenism" in Wayne Barker.

Despite its thistle emblem and tartan-clad cheerleaders, The Glen was not a pretty place in Scotland. Its dusty fields with their adjoining littered hollow lent themselves to smoking dope against the back fence while kicking at the tufts of grass still trying to grow. Its walls begged the malcontent scrawl of irremovable graffiti.

The year was 1976, Soweto a cultural universe away. Barker was in Standard Six and his brother in Standard Eight. Together they were the neighbourhood's "legendary reprobates", bored white schoolboys who believed that to be wild was somehow also to be innocent. Buying dope one day, Barker was arrested and his Glen High career came to an abrupt end. Soon after, so did his home life - with all his clothes in black plastic bags, he ran away with a friend and became an apprentice woodcarver in Nature's Valley, where the fragrance of ocean and earth mixed headily with the thrill of flight and an almost anonymous freedom.

Although his parents knew where he was, Barker had no contact with them until eight months later, when he returned to Pretoria and crammed his final two years of schooling at Capital College.

Conscription loomed, and Barker, for better or for worse, followed his instincts and enrolled at Pretoria Technikon to study its first-ever art course. After a year spent living in his parents' outside room - a year of exploring basic techniques and discovering a staggering backcatalogue of art history books and "art heroes" who he had barely known existed - he decided to take his art studies back to the coast. Over this time, another split became part of the make-up of his identity: the wayward rebel full of unfocused energy learned to shift, focus, and absorb information that would literally allow him to survive in a culture of reactionary thinkers. Later, when Barker would need a trap-door out of the military, the books he had read would be the material for performances in which he was the tragi-comic star.

Johnny Rottenism

Wayne Barker: Artist's Monograph
Vienna Calling
60's Suburbia
Johnny Rottenism
Anyone for Tennis?
Fourteen Days in Hell
The Bad Art Attacks
The Famous Five do Downtown
Fragments of a Murder
Have you Hugged a Fascist Today?
Landscape with Target
Blood Money
Le Monde a L'envers
Bigotry on a Stick
The Heart of Neon
Divorce in Paradise
The South African Thing
Storming the Ramparts
The Wax Hand
A Love Story
Frankfurt in Latex
The Talking Curio
Back to Basics
Dirty Laundry
A New Kind of Freedom
Photo Credits & Works