Pretty as a picture
Everything’s coming up roses at art classes in the Barossa
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