Pretty as a pic­ture

Ev­ery­thing’s coming up roses at art classes in the Barossa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Australia - CHRIS­TINE Mc­CABE

I LIKE the idea of dab­bling in water­colours, trav­el­ling with an easel and paint box and set­ting up a lit­tle can­vas chair and lunch by a moun­tain stream or in the square of a French vil­lage.

The prob­lem is I can’t draw, let alone paint. ‘‘Not true,’’ says painter and art teacher Jac­que­line Coates, as we scour South Aus­tralia’s Barossa Val­ley Farm­ers Mar­ket for likely veg­eta­bles for a still life.

But di­verted by the good­ies to hand, we stock up on pies and cakes in­stead, then whizz into nearby An­gas­ton to buy wine and pop by Viva, The Flower Store, where Coates or­ders a bunch of white and ma­genta stock, sweet peas and rus­set-hued roses, fuss­ing over the flow­ers’ com­po­si­tion for, sans veg, th­ese are to be our still-life sub­jects.

Be­fore mak­ing her easel-change to the old cop­per min­ing town of Ka­punda, in the dry hills cuff­ing the Barossa, Coates was a Syd­ney-based ad­ver­tis­ing art di­rec­tor. She is ac­claimed for her large and lus­cious paint­ings of old­fash­ioned roses and mag­no­lias and, more re­cently, enor­mous can­vases plas­tered with al­mond blos­som. They are gor­geous and look well out of my league.

But as we drive the val­ley’s back­roads to her stu­dio, through fields of sway­ing green wheat and golden rape, past tum­ble­down stone barns and tiny vil­lages where church spires rise like ex­cla­ma­tion marks above the vines, I am feel­ing so in­spired I al­most be­lieve her prom­ises that I will pro­duce a paint­ing wor­thy of hang­ing on my wall. The first stop is our digs for the week­end, a re­stored barn tucked away in the back­streets of sleepy Ka­punda, where the 19th-cen­tury min­ing boom­town ar­chi­tec­ture of pubs, cot­tages and con­vents re­mains re­mark­ably in­tact. Coates’s former fam­ily home, and now base for her res­i­den­tial art classes, could not be more pic­ture per­fect.

The thick stone walls are hung with can­vases, the barn features a French-style coun­try kitchen, wood fire and glass doors open­ing on to a ro­man­tic garden of laven­der, pep­per trees and scented gera­nium that could just as eas­ily be in Provence. Up­stairs in the loft the two dou­ble bed­rooms have ad­di­tional beds (per­fect for groups of up to six friends) and a large share bath­room. The pantry is crammed with home-made pre­serves and oil pressed from wild olives col­lected by Coates and her chil­dren, and there’s a leg of lamb in the fridge ready to pop in the oven for din­ner. But we’ve no time to dilly-dally. I have one af­ter- noon to pro­duce a paint­ing, so it’s back in the car and across town to Coates’s Sa­lon Rouge Gallery, an old me­chan­ics work­shop stuffed to the gun­nels with paint­ings and the chaotic but pic­turesque clut­ter of an artis­tic life.

Af­ter lunch, de­liv­ered by Alice from the White Kite Cafe, a bot­tle of wine is opened and it’s down to work. The long stu­dio ta­ble is loaded with hun­dreds of tubes of oil and, af­ter root­ing about to se­lect the right colours, Coates be­gins in­struct­ing the class. She is an in­spi­ra­tional teacher on how to really ‘‘see’’ flow­ers and daub (not dab) on that oil with an al­most in­de­cent ex­trav­a­gance.

Six hours later, my back killing me, I re­turn to the barn for roast lamb armed with a large can­vas that not only looks like a bunch of Barossa flow­ers but to­day hangs proudly in my study. Chris­tine Mc­Cabe was a guest of A Barn in the Barossa.


Art teacher Jac­que­line Coates paint­ing peonies at her gallery (far left) and with a stu­dent in the stu­dio garden

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