Friday, November 27, 2009

Sun and Shadow

I always find the best spots to paint at noon with the sun glaring down. The downside is that the contrasts are sharp. The advantage of this is that it provides me with an opportunity to study the features we need in our South African homes to provide shelter from the heat.
Driving along the highway to Malmesbury this cottage suddenly appearred 'in the middle of nowhere' near the main road. That it seems so solitary is an indication of the abundance of space we are used to in the West Coast region. The house was built in what we call Victorian style in our country, but whereas Victorians had to consider heating, architects here had to incorparate into their design our lenghthy summers and providing natural cooling. The most important feature these little homes had was the deep shady verandas. It kept the dining- and sitting room, which were always near the front, very cool and provided a lovely sheltered outside area to sit during the day. It provided symmetry and order to the design, and here the two large trees were used to provide a neat frame.
I noticed that the building now had a religious use, but my memories were stirred and I thought back to a time when a man would read his newspaper outside on the veranda while his wife sat there preparing vegetables. Besides a comfortable bench there would be an upright table which could be laid so that the family could enjoy their supper outside on hot summer nights. Yes, sitting down to dinner wherever you were, was a great South African tradition! How things have changed with the advent of television!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cape Dutch Architecture

I spotted this building on a street corner in Malmesbury. This is one of the typical white Cape Dutch homes that is such a feast for the eye because of the clean symmetry. Of course this style originated in the Netherlands, but in a very different way and developed here over the years in our own gracefully unique style. In Dutch cities we can still see tall narrow buildings, several storeys high that are topped with gables. In South Africa with so much space available the building style transformed itself into spacious floor plans and usually a single storey. Because the rules of symmetry were followed, the homes were either long or in an H or a T shape.

The burghers had tiles for roofing at first, but those early tiles cracked in the harsh climate. Reeds was the best local material available and the roofs needed to be high-pitched to prevent water from settling on the roof and creating rot. Soon the white gables and high thatched roofs became characteristic of the Cape Dutch style. I mentioned in an earlier blog that the large gable also freed the front door from burning thatch blocking the entrance in the event of a fire.

High ceilings and thick walls lead to cool interiours. Flagstones that came over to the Cape as ships' ballast were used for the floors and sometimes highly polished. Windows are always higher than their width, and rhythmically placed.Today many of these homes are beautifully restored, authentically furnished and lived in or preserved as national monuments and museums.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Neo-Baroque in the Swartland

I have sketched town halls and churches in Rotring pen, but painting the all-white very complicated Swartland Dutch Reformed Church building in its entirety was too ambitious a project, thus I offer one wing of the building! You can look at a photograph of this immensely beautiful church by searching the Malmesbury Historic Route on Google. This church was the flagship, center point and tallest structure before the grain silos started to dominate the townscape.

The style is neo-Gothic, also called Victorian Gothic which began in England in 1740. The Swartland church, one of the oldest in the country was built in 1745. In this style Gothic and Medieval forms are prefered above classical architecture. In Victorian times Classical was seen as liberal and modern, while Baroque was associated with conservatism, making it the perfect choice for seriously conservative churches.

I loved this wing of the church which created a cool quiet corner with the large tree still in its winter-skeleton mode. In my painting you can see one of those very cute Medieval-style concrete curiosities on the gable. They decorate the roof all round, each a different design, and some seem to carry bells or mirrors. I will do some more research, as Gaudi who loved Medieval ornamentation also used a lot of them in Barcelona in the early 20th century.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Waving Wheatfields

At last we had open skies and took the road inland. We passed through Malmesbury with its giant wheat silos where the country's breakfast cereals and cake and bread flour originate. And then, what I was hoping for: as we started out from Malmesbury to Piketberg, there was field upon field of golden wheat , softly stirring in the breeze as far as the eye could see.

Wheat conjures up many associations and symbols. I see the biblical Ruth bending to gather the fallen ears of wheat behind the harvesters. I see happy folks dipping hunks of fresh bread into olive oil and forever-famished little boys with their peanut butter sarmies. Is there anything else that springs to mind? Please leave a comment and we can all spend the weekend with log fires, cheese, wine, soup and bread. And a few thoughts or discussions on the staff of life!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And now for South African Pumpkins

For all my friends in the States who are painting and displaying and eating pumpkin at this time of the year, I show a still life with everyday South African pumpkins.
You do not want to know what Spring has turned into as the rain pours down and the wind whips up the ocean outside my studio window!
While I am waiting to continue travelling the West Coast and paint a waving wheatfield, I refer back to my previous blog. I have used my own window and my own doll in the picture, and added a bowl of miniature American pumpkins which I photographed on my daughter's Thanksgiving table in 2000 in Texas. When I was there, I truly admired the lovely pumpkins displayed on lawns and window-sills all over American towns, some of them enormous, very orange, very round orbs!

Our pumpkins are very rough-looking, I hope you like them too!
A waving wheatfield coming up soon! (thinking positively about the weather!)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Autumn Painting in a Spring Garden

I have been housebound because of the weather. The plan was to paint a large canvas with a rich, waving sunny wheatfield which will continue the story of Malmesbury. But for the last 96 hours it has been raining and pouring. It started with storms of the worst kind when I often thought that the sea was entering the house. Now it is just an ongoing rain, the type that the fields and gardens surely need before the scorching summer arrives.

To keep the blog running, I decided to show you my painting, completed three weeks ago, for an Autunm theme competition that was launched in California, the home of Facebook, where of course, they celebrate the colours of Autumn at the moment. In honour of the contrast of seasons between the Northern hemisphere and the Cape, I photographed the painting in my Spring garden some weeks ago.

Hoping to paint the wheatfields soon!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pillars of Power

The fairly large town of Malmesbury is a place where nobody really wants to spend any length of time, unless you know where to find some of its treasures. The town has three distinct faces: Firstly it is the Administrative capitol of our region, as it is where we go for passports, licences, etc. Secondly, it is dominated by enormous silos in the middle of town, as this place is truly the breadbasket of the country, surrounded by wheatfields as far as the eye can see. And thirdly it has significant historical value with some of the oldest buildings in the country.

Today, to represent the administrative side of Malmesbury, I have painted the imposing pillars and gateposts in front of the Swartland Municipality.