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Jay Norman

South African artist Jay Norman was born on the 14th of September, 1909 in the town Kroonstad, in the Orange Free State. As a young girl she learned the basic principles of painting from her artistic mother.

She was one of three sisters. For a large part of her childhood, she lived in Muizenberg in the Western Cape. After passing her final school examinations, she trained as a nurse. In June 1935 she married Henry (Bungo) Simpkins, who had studied law and was second in command of the Rhodesian (today Zimbabwe) Ministry of Internal Affairs. When they lived in Gatooma (today Kadoma), their only child, Michael, was born.

After her husband’s retirement, the family moved from Rhodesia to Somerset-West in the Western Cape, where Bungo died in 1963. Jay then went to live in a cottage next to her sister in Kalk Bay, not far from Muizenberg. She had become a full-time artist, with a studio at the Craft Corner in the Cape Town suburb of Wynberg. Her style developed from attentively getting to know her painting medium, brushes and colour. She experimented with watercolour and even the pallet knife (example: “Kalk Bay”, 1968.) Her first paintings were dark and loose, as though she were seeking her individualistic style. Although initially influenced by the art of Irma Stern and Maggie Laubser, she developed a personal style, creating cheerful images of everyday life.

Jay Norman loved painting commonplace objects and landscapes. Her still lives are colourful and she often painted poppies, lilies, sunflowers or simply a bunch of mixed flowers, the interior of a happy home, a table decked with food and wine. She painted items found in her own home: a yellow chair, a red coat, a cosy interior with comfortable chairs, side tables, or a view from her window.
She also paid particular attention to people, depicting anglers with their catch of the day or girls holding bunches of flowers – paintings that can be easily understood and enjoyed.
Jay often marked her finished paintings with a title, signature and the date on the back of a painting. She preferred to frame her paintings with a white or beige frame, which she made herself with a mitre box and saw.

Her first exhibition was held at Gallery Brevan in Cape Town. After a few more exhibitions, where her work did not sell well, she moved to Pretoria in 1981. There she lived in student rooms at the back of her son’s property in Hillcrest. There she set up a studio and devoted her days to painting. When she was invited to exhibit at Pretoria’s Hoffer Gallery in 1982, she received excellent press reviews, followed by annual exhibitions and notable success. Her paintings were often sold out during the first few days after the opening.

When Jay Norman was incapacitated by dementia at a late age, she was moved to a care facility in Pretoria, where she died shortly before her 90th birthday, on the 28th of August 1999.

Article by Saskia Kempff and Petrovna Metelerkamp.
November 2021—Jan 2022.

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Jay Norman Artworks
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