Born in Pretoria on March 22, 1931, his mother died when he was three and his father put him in the care if his maternal grandparents.
Leaving school after standard eight to begin an apprenticeship at Iscor van der Westhuizen said he continued to feel out of place. But he managed to eventually get his matric, moved up to a white-collar job at Iscor and settled in Cape Town’s southern suburbs with his wife Lettie.
His day job limited his painting, but once his son Jan finished his education, van der Westhuizen resigned and moved to Rawsonville, where he worked full-time as an artist.
In 1979 he got the opportunity to study at the Nationale Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunster in Belgium. But not long after they returned, Lettie died, suddenly and unexpectedly.
He would often make unplanned trips to Europe, seemingly coming and going on a whim. He studied again in ’82 and ’85 at the Stedelijke Akademie in Ghent and the Ryks Centrum voor Grafiek in Kasterlee, Belgium. In ’83 and ’85 he travelled to Japan and studied wood-block printing.
In 1984 he married a young Israeli girl named Ofra, whom he had initially employed to produce prints for him.
The Israeli connection led to trips there and an exhibition with Marc Chagall, Yaacov Agam and Ben Avram in Madrid in ’88. A Chagallian influence can be seen in some of his work thereafter.
But his marriage to Ofra ended in divorce after seven years. While it was a major blow to him, his second marriage gave him the gift of his daughter Ma’ayan. He enjoyed a close relationship with her, attending her wedding just ten days before his death.
But cupid had not exhausted his quiver. In 1993 he married Zebeth van Heerden, a teacher in the small town of Philadelphia, where he had settled on the edge of the Swartland.
Although Pieter suffered a heart attack and subsequent bouts of ill-health in what was to be the final phase of his life, the overall impression gathered is that despite what Rev Jan Mostert described as his “sophistication”, he also possessed an “utter simplicity” which did not fetter him with the melancholy which often troubles creative minds.
He loved what he did, he was successful at it. It seems that after an inauspicious start, he finally found a comfortable place in this world.