My Story

ABOUT PAUL

I was born at the local hospital in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at 8 pm 23rd May Sunday 1965. My parents came on a boat from the USA, after receiving compensation from a motor accident. My father, a photographer, was chasing after his dream of photographing steam trains, the greatest passion of his life, on the African continent. My mother left my father when I was three, and I was brought up by her and Willem van Ryneveld, my surname was changed, and for many years I thought he was my biological father. We moved home frequently because, I believe, my mother did not want my father to find me. I don’t think he would have if it weren’t for the efforts of a girlfriend of my father’s who encouraged him to use a private detective to locate me. I was ten years old when he re-entered my life.  Contact with my biological father introduced creativity and culture and outdoor adventure into my life although he was notoriously unreliable. His promise to fetch me early Saturday for a weekend might mean that he would arrive late on a Saturday afternoon.

I moved in with my father and his wife for my last year of high school and in May of the following year left South Africa to go and live in the USA. My father and his wife had a new baby and limited space, and for political reasons, I did not wish to give two years of my life to the Apartheid South African government, in the form of two years conscription into the South African Defence Force.  I was young and naive and like many 18-year-olds believed that the world was my oyster and that my direct family was entirely responsible for all of my failings.

I bounced around the USA trying desperately to land on solid ground. In 1987 I moved to Atlanta and connected with many like-minded communities and pursued my growing interests in music, art, and live performance. Many of the friends that I made in that period of growth in Atlanta are still friends to this day. I do look back on this period, 1987-2001 as a time of being unanchored, a time of searching and of unresolved and perhaps unconscious and unarticulated anger about my unsettled childhood. Finding work wherever I landed and receiving a pay-cheque so I could eat and pay rent, my head was filled with ideas, and one, in particular, took root in 1994, an art project to be called onepeople. After three years of researching, planning, connecting with artists and saving, in 1997 my girlfriend (at this time) and I at the time undertook a six-month journey through Africa and Europe, interviewing and filming artists whose work was considered seminal in their chosen disciplines. This journey took an interesting metaphorical turn when it led me to the front door of the Burning Man event, held in Nevada each year. As a result of this I relocated to the San Francisco area and along with Grady Cousins worked hard to develop the One People Voice Company and subsequent Gamelan X project. Its primary focus was teaching and performing Kecak and the Baleganjur.

About this time a seed planted in my brain began to germinate, a dream of starting a regional Burning Man event in South Africa. Following long conversations with Larry Harvey, the co-founder of Burning man and after many fundraising events, I returned to live in South Africa in 2007.   I had already travelled twice to South Africa, connecting with people involved in the arts and laying the foundation for Afrika Burns. I spent two years working on the event and then travelled to Australia to be with my (now) wife. This relocation afforded me the opportunity to be an integral part of the genesis of the East coast Burning Man regional event, Burning Seed,  and also the  Blazing Swan event in WA.  Along with my continued interests in Burning Man-related projects, I have been fortunate enough to be able to pursue my interests in music, events, and photography. I have also worked for many years on theatre productions.

I am grateful to be surrounded by my family, my interesting friends and our cats, the high-maintenance Rafa and the chilled-out Cheesecake.

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