Douglas Portway was born in Johannesburg in 1922. He studied fine art at the Witwatersran Technical College and later taught at the University of Johannesburg. After his first solo exhibition in 1945 he gained such a reputation that he became the first South African to be awarded a travel grant from the Institute of International Education.
He left South Africa for good and travelled Europe in 1957, finally settling in Ibiza in 1959. After moving to Cornwall in 1967, he became part of the British abstract movement of the 1950’s and 1960s. Portway’s work is often classified as abstract expressionism and always retained some form of mystery to it. He believed that art should never be fully analysed. This is fully evident in one of his quotes that states: “...art which can be completely subjected to an analytical process, is by the very fact, removed from the possibility of being art”
Portway’s early paintings had a strong ethnic influence to them, but after he left South Africa he developed an interest in Zen Buddhism and his art began to reflect this change. Portway died in 1993. He had never returned to South Africa.