Lucy Wiles

Lucy Wiles was born in Johannesburg on 24th November 1918 to Thomas and Pauline Townsend. She went to Waverley High School and, although her best subject at school was

Lucy Wiles was born in Johannesburg on 24th November 1918 to Thomas and Pauline Townsend. She went to Waverley High School and, although her best subject at school was Art, she trained as a nurse. She says as a child she was always frightened of school and could not remember a happier time than lying in the long grass as a small child with her brother and sister John and Elizabeth before school going age, with the loving attention of her mother always on them. This perhaps explains her quiet modesty all her life, not competing with other artists, and leading her own life and not getting too involved with the mainstream art world.

She married Norman Mullins of the Grahamstown family and had two daughters, Pauline and Jane, and became a farmer’s wife on the farm Assegaai Bush in the Eastern Cape, until they moved to Butterworth where she started painting. On offer were the beautiful indigenous Xhosa people, still then in their brilliantly ochre and orange blanket wear, and she became entranced with these people. She started by fashioning friezes, peopled by these wondrously vivid Xhosa people. She became known as “ephoto” in the area, as she eventually started seeking out the trading stores in the countryside and paying models to sit for her on the spot. It was a remarkable experience for her children, who ran riot out in the country, making mud huts with the local children in the river beds and playing in the shadows of the sacks of grain and sweets in the stores.

Her marriage to Norman Mullins came to an end and she moved alone, like a frontier woman, to Engcobo, where she established herself as a full time artist, and sold her paintings and friezes through the Peddie and Butterworth Hotels, painting occasionally with Constance Greaves.

By 1954 her only art training had been a three week course in Durban with Nils Anderson, who she greatly admired. As her parents were living in Knysna, and had got to know the now well known artist W G Wiles, it was arranged that she would go for a painting holiday to him. This she did, and met Brian, his youngest son, who she married. He was not an artist at the time but described himself as lotus eating and writing a satirical novel in the loft of his parents’ house, being, in some sense, the first hippie! His first painting was done on their honeymoon which Lucy insisted should be in Oudtshoorn, as she wanted to paint there. She was busy on a canvas, and eventually squeezed out a bit of paint onto a rock, gave him a canvas and told him to get on with it!

They established the Wiles Gallery on Leisure Isle and ran it for 49 years, selling their work from there, and seldom going through dealers. She did, however, have a one woman exhibition, followed by a Wiles Group exhibition, at Everard Read’s then Pieter Wenning Gallery in downtown Johannesburg, as they were lifelong friends. She had a long standing relationship with the Queenstown Art Society because they had supported her so wholeheartedly when she was a young artist starting out in the Transkei.

Her biggest commissions were paintings for all the Safmarine refrigeration ships, and flower studies for every room in the golf estate Fancourt, in George. Her paintings have now also spread to all corners of the world.

When she moved to the Western Cape, Lucy’s work flowed out into flower studies, Cape Dutch houses, Knysna forest scenes, boats on the lagoon, and later on studies of children, mostly the charming little urchins of the streets of Knysna. After turning 50 Lucy always added a little Transkei pig to her signature, to mark her half century, and acknowledge her roots. In her later years she travelled in Italy, Greece, Israel , the East and finally in China, which she visited four times in her 80’s, so obsessed she became with it.

When she was 86 she moved to a retirement village in Port Alfred, where she painted up to three weeks before her death in 2008. She then exhibited her work in The Wiles Gallery, Bathurst, owned by her daughter, artist Jane Wiles, who collected and seld the work of W G Wiles , Brian Wiles, Lucy Wiles and herself.