Documenting Joburg’s Historic Doorways

Artist James Delaney tells an aspect of Johannesburg's story through drawings of its doors.

James Delaney

Since 2011, visual artist and passionate Johannesburg-phile James Delaney has been travelling around Africa, capturing the continent’s historic doors and intriguing doorways. His recent paintings of Joburg’s comprehensive selection of openings are a unique imagining of the city’s diverse origins.  

In the Johannesburg/ Beginnings series, Delaney renders a captivating selection of doors in colourful watercolours that range from the grandeur of the city’s Neoclassical architecture to the more simple entryways of Joburg’s Modernist buildings. 

Delaney's fascination with doors began while on a ship sailing around West Africa for three weeks, when he started making charcoal and paint sketches of doorways.

‘I discovered beautiful doorways in Dakar, Goree Island, Laayoune and other places, and sketching them distracted my mind from being seasick – the sea was rough, so I painted lots – and it worked,’ he says. 

With his feet back on terra firma, Delaney continued with the subject, recently working for the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, who wanted gifts for delegates to take something home of Johannesburg. James zoomed in on the diverse doors of the prestigious St John's school in Houghton, to carry through some of the history from the era in which the school was built, and the beauty of old Joburg architecture. 

The doors are often overlooked by even the most curious city resident, but tell a story all of their own, says the artist. 'The doorways are from different times in the city’s history and although all of them started as grand in some form, their varying condition reflects their changes in fortunes over time.'

To view the full series check out Delaney’s website