Who was the plumpish, cherub-faced young usher at the Breytenbach Theatre in Pretoria in the early ’70s who watched every single performance of every production there, and rushed home to reproduce miniature models of the sets he saw? Even to improve on them, maybe?
And who was the endearingly opinionated costume assistant on my nativity play Starbrite? The young rooikoppie saying: “Tinsel and sweet-papers on calico? I’m sure I can think of a better alternative!” And he did. In Pretoria, wardrobe people talked about the brilliant young costume designer for Romeo and Juliet. Martie Scheepers, Tom Owen and Dalene Holt raved about his amazing feel for fabric and eye for colour.
But though he was praised and encouraged by those he worked with, he himself constantly strove to learn more and improve his already astounding skills.
He travelled to places with which he identified culturally, historically and aesthetically. He brought this home – vibrant and bursting with the art of Florence, the difference of Thai ways, the fascination of Berlin, the cremation ceremonies in Bali – more, and ever more! And he shared this with us liberally.
He soaked up design methods from established designers in London and spent life-changing months in Bayreuth, Germany, enveloped aurally, visually and spiritually in the wonders of Wagner and The Ring.
Johan always had mentors and role models – the young designer Aubrey Couling, who died tragically young. Johan always felt he had been handed Aubrey’s mantle to wear ever after. Neels Hansen (who also died last week) taught him to love opera, Ralph Koltai in the UK ventured into new, abstract territory, Terry Hands gave him thrilling opportunities at The Royal Shakespeare Company and later around Europe.
Then the mutually exciting and stimulating friendship and work relationship with opera director David Pountney, with Maskerade, the highly-challenging, brilliant and compelling The Passenger, many other innovative interpretations of opera, and last year the critically acclaimed, visually fabulous and fantastical The Magic Flute in Bregenz.
And, of course, so many more directors, designers, singers, actors and technical crews shared a deeply rewarding creative link with Johan.
All his best buddies who loved him appreciated the good time he