Saturday, January 30, 2010

Aurora in the Swartland

So here I am, having driven around to the Western side of the Piketberg to see the tiny hamlet of Aurora with its under 700 inhabitants and its reputation of zero crime, zero police presence! I first heard about Aurora when it was claimed that city people buy places here to have a proper rest, write a book or recuperate in the cleanest air in the country. I will visit again to find the single shop, lunch at the single (very promising) restaurant and the one and only coffee house. And to look up the toy maker, and find some historic markers, and most of all hopefully find somebody with stories to share about the place!

Driving up and down at 12 noon, I hear no sounds but the natural whisper of a mountain breeze. There are no traffic sounds and as things seem, hardly ever lawn mower sounds to be heard either, because in a few gardens two or three sheep are keeping the grass short! After a while a lady comes out on her veranda, hands on the hips, no doubt wondering: "Now who is this "agie" (a curious person) driving up and down here"?

For my painting I chose a village home with a very distinct farmhouse aura. In the photos are some more peaceful scenes in Aurora.....I will go back one day!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

About Aloes on the West Coast

Here on the rocky parts of the beach the aloes are in full bloom during January and February. Aloes just love growing against rocky slopes anywhere in the Cape, which makes it one of South Africa's most valuable plants to keep steep mountain glades in place. This morning I noticed that the little protea bush known as "skollie" with its grey-green leaves grows tightly in between these aloes. In this precious Cape floral kingdom there is always some amazing display!

The aloe family has a lot of uses as enterprising folks prepare health drinks and creams and lotions and ointments, which are then beautifully packaged and sold in markets. Of course we also know the South American aloe called "agave" from which tequila is made. Our farmers cut the thick leaves in times of drought, remove the thorns and feed it to their cattle.

My painting is of the aloe mitriformis. They grow wild but I have some in the garden as well as six or so others. The photo shows some of my own aloes. Starting in the top, left to right:
  1. I call the first one Old Lonely. It has no sideshoots yet. I know in a few seasons there will be yellow florets which are loved by birds.

  2. Next is Bonny, a stripey one who has eleven babies all around her. This will make a formidable fence one day.

  3. I call the next one Buster, very strong, but no sight of little ones yet.

  4. The last photo shows a row of colourful aloes which add a lot of definition to my garden. They look very smug and undamaged after I toppled into them last week when I wanted to investigate a plant behind them. My husband had to help me out and wash my 30 or so scratches and little wounds. I think it is because of this episode that I am nowadays greeted goodbye in the morning with the words: "Now don't do anything funny in the garden today!"

Friday, January 22, 2010

Geelbek Restaurant

How fortunate that our visitors from Melbourne, Australia are nature lovers. So, instead of turning south towards the city, we drive in a northerly direction along the West Coast on a 20 minute drive. Soon we enter the West Coast National Park, pass the well-known ostrich treesome on the way and stop at Geelbek Restaurant on the Langebaan lagoon.

As with most National Monuments in the Cape, the homestead stands out sharply white and symmetrical. This building was the original homestead of the farm Geelbekkenfontein, named for the yellow-billed duck. In the Van Riebeeck days a lot of food was needed for the population as well as the hundreds of passing sea-going vessels. Several plots formed an outpost called Oude Post. Farmers had to plant wheat, farm cattle and catch fish. There was also a lookout post from where both Table Bay and Saldanha Bay could be guarded (against the French ). This was during the English rule of the Cape!

Geelbek has a rich history. It was once gutted by fire but now fully restored. It was also the scene of lavish entertainment in the early nineteen-twenties as Governor-General Henry de Villiers Steytler stocked vast amounts of wine in what was known as the biggest cellar in the country. He dredged the lagoon to allow ships to enter right up to the house. You can see the gate to the lagoon in the white wall in my painting! Parties could last for weeks and Cecil John Rhodes was also once a guest there.

Today the restaurant offers fresh line fish, and many favourite local dishes are also on the menu. Be sure to read the plaque that warns visitors that we do not hurry our food on the West Coast! This means that you may leave the table and explore a little to get an idea of the lie of the land. Next time I am here, I want to go through the gate and visit the ruins of the old castle and also go on the bird hideout overlooking the lagoon.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

"Tweede Nuwejaar" - the Second New Year

It is a tradition as old as the country itself. "Tweede Nuwejaar" ( the second of January) has been a day of festivities since the seventeenth century as the local people turn out for day-long excitement. Like "Boxing Day" which was meant for staff in Britain to have a day off, the 2nd day of January is celebrated especially in the Cape where it originated. (I have a sneaky feeling that hard-working Johannesburg ignores this most agreeable custom.)

The main event in the city is the costumed parade of "Kaapse Klopse" (Cape Minstrels) through the streets, followed by the singing contests in the Greenpoint Stadium.The male choirs are dressed in their finest regalia. A little boy can be chosen for a superb soprano voice, or his dancing, comedy or acrobatic ability, or even as a cute mascot dressed like the adults. You can read more on the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival on Google.

On the beaches of the West Coast the people also turn out early for their traditional annual picnic. In my usually tranquil and open view of Kabeljoubank, large buses and many vehicles disgorge the people and soon we see a long procession snaking along the kilometer of beach walk. The beach is soon covered with tents, umbrellas and all types of shelters.

I watch discreetly while these folks have such a lovely time, my fingers crossed that there would not be a runaway fire. In my painting I tried to show the carefree walk down the pathway. Can you see the boy who has jumped onto a rock to see if his folks are following, while his little sister also glances backwards? Two teenage boys are carrying a heavy bag of foodstuffs. The guy in plaid shirt with an enormous bag of (forbidden) firewood (fire regulations) wears his cap back-to-front, a way of indicating his leadership. In the distance a white beach and a blue ocean calls!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Into the New Year 2: The Wheatfield and Why it was Successful

I am still not posting but am reared to go full steam ahead after the 15th of January. Some of the more energetic members of the family are climbing Lion's Head at this very moment. I have done it a few times in the do not have a straight climb but you circle around and around...yes 360 degrees of splendid views. Some I my new followers mentioned that they will visit the country during the soccer olympics. Make a note of climbing Lion's Head!

To post this morning I have decided to look back to my most successful painting and analyse why it worked. I hope that some of this will be helpful to others too: My depiction of a Wheatfield in the Swartland outstripped all my other paintings in popularity on the blog, on Facebook and according to e-mails I received. Why did it work so well and what will help me in future when planning a work of art?

  1. Building up some anticipation. Looking back I can see that I was in quite a fix. It was stormy and rained a lot when we expected summer weather. I could not reach my wheatfield. So I kept referring in the social network to this golden field eluding me. I can now see that waiting for it was part of the allure of the painting when I eventually encountered sunny weather and could complete it.

  2. Yellow Colour Magic: Kandinsky, as he opened the way towards abstract painting, did a very good study of colour. He called light blue a receding colour and yellow an advancing colour. We also have science encyclopedias at home where yellow is named for its "shouting" properties, in other words yellow attracts attention and advances towards the viewer. Also remember Van Gogh's several sunflower paintings where the flowers and the background are in different hues of yellow, making his work such eye-catchers! There are many colours with great qualities waiting to be used this year.

  3. Nostalgia: A wheatfield painting comes with the built-in emotions that relates to bread, frugality, survival, goodness and health. I was tearful myself when I received ALL the words of America the Beautiful in my comments! A record comment in length and if that kind lady will send me her address, I will mail her a print of the painting. (p/s A canvas print was posted of to blogger "Autumn Leaves")

  4. Biblical Connotations: Wheat and bread have always played a soft role in religion. In the stories...Ruth and Boas...and in the time-honoured ceremonies. This year I will look for more scenes with universal appeal!

  5. Art Historical Connotations: Of course a wheatfield stands in the tradition of Constable, Van Gogh (who did several paintings of wheatfields, both happy with sunshine and bales of wheat as well as threatening with reapers and crows), Morisot, Monet and Van Ruysdael. There is also the modern "earth art"-mode a work by Agnes Denys near Manhatten. Look it up, it is a famous contemporary statement! There is a great upsurge in History of Art, I will use my art books and magazines this year!

  6. Composition: As was realised in the Renaissance curly lines and diagonals bring movement and agitation to a painting but calm horisontals lead to a comfortable state of mind in the spectator. In the market, many buyers of art would prefer this restfulness against a living room wall to encourage "winding down" or in a boardroom to sooth anxiety. The wheatfield I painted, answered this need of a pieceful, soothing piece. In the coming year, I will plan ahead the type of mood I want my compositions to generate.

I encourage all art bloggers out there to consider their best pieces of the last year and to ponder for a moment the elements that made the work a success!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Into the New Year 1: Landscapes of the Past Decade

How really drab was that hurried little painting at the end of the year! ( I promise to redo and replace it soon, as there is a nice little editing function for bloggers) I am still very busy away from the studio, but will interrupt the normal West Coast travel blogs with:
1.Landscapes of the Past and 2.New Year's Blogging Resolutions. Today in Landscapes of the Past, I show works that were exhibited and sold in Hungary and South Africa. From the top:
1 West Coast Scene 2002.
2. Still Life in a Landscape pre-2000.
3 Barrels 2004.
4.Boats at Rovenska 2002
5. The Little Bar 2004