Bill Ainslie (1934-1989)

Artwork by Bill Ainslie


Born in Bedford in the Eastern Cape, Bill Ainslie has been described an artist, educator and humanitarian. After his tragic death in a car accident in 1989 the art field, the education profession and indeed this country suffered great a loss.

Originally Ainslie wanted to be a priest, before art captured his imagination while still at school. He eventually went to the University of Natal where in 1956 he met artist Selby Mvusi, a meeting which would change his outlook radically and shape his artist career to come.

‘Selby Mvusi alerted me to the needs of the country.  Through him I saw the crucial necessity for the development of black art. The work I have done in my life was a consequence of the period I spent with him.’ – Bill Ainslie

Ainslie maintained throughout his life a vision that art was a valuable means to promote reconciliation between the people of South Africa allowing for effective communication and growth. This ideal along his passion for social equality and helped along by his natural teaching ability saw his studio develop into the Johannesburg Art Foundation which found its home at 6 Eastwold Way Saxonwold. Later on Ainslie would also become involved in projects such as Cyrene Mission Station in Zimbabwe, FUBA, FUNDA, The Alexandra Art Centre, Katlehong Art centre and Thupelo Workshops where his lively and generous spirit singled him out as a natural leader and mentor.

As an artist his innate sensitivity came through in expressive charcoals sketches while his passion for exploration shone through in his radiant abstract works which have been sold both locally and internationally. His inner fervour nurtured triumphantly joyous, yet intense and physical canvasses that breathe a primal radiance.

‘Ainslie was one of those rare, irreplaceable men, a born leader, trusted by everyone, a humanitarian, a master teacher… to him, art was far more than making images or illustrating belief: it was where human creative energy found it’s touchtone.  He believed that because art had been neglected in Southern Africa, much had been corrupted.’