A cel­e­bra­tion of the land

The Fleurieu Art Prize brings a rich new fo­cus to South Aus­tralia’s lovely McLaren Vale

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - CHRIS­TINE McCABE

AT the charm­ing Kay Broth­ers cel­lar door, the old­est fam­ily-run out­fit in South Aus­tralia’s McLaren Vale, a jour­nal record­ing the win­ery’s day-to­day op­er­a­tions, weather con­di­tions and brief but vi­tal fam­ily an­nounce­ments (such as ‘‘Mrs Kay had a son’’) has been kept since 1891.

Tucked away, out of sight, like many cel­lar doors in this part of the world where roads criss­cross a patch­work of vine­yards, olive groves and scrubby hills fan­ning down to the sea, the old­fash­ioned Kay Broth­ers af­fords some of the loveli­est views in the Vale.

Next month, the win­ery’s 1901 barrel stor­age shed will be daubed with land­scapes.

Kay Broth­ers is one of five cel­lar doors and gal­leries dis­play­ing the works of 123 fi­nal­ists in the $60,000 Fleurieu Art Prize, the world’s rich­est land­scape paint­ing award. Artists from across Aus­tralia will be rep­re­sented dur­ing the Oc­to­ber 26-Novem­ber 25 com­pe­ti­tion, to be judged by a panel that in­cludes Nigel Hurst of Lon­don’s Saatchi Gallery.

An easy 45-minute drive from Ade­laide, the Kay hill­top bolt­hole is a mag­i­cal venue with its own artis­tic back­story. Wine­maker Colin Kay’s great­grand­mother Sarah was a botan­i­cal artist of note (her works are held at the Art Gallery of SA). She also at­tempted land­scapes but ‘‘per­haps less suc­cess­fully’’, Colin ad­mits. Her charm­ing pic­tures of flow­ers make a nice coun­ter­point to the prize’s con­tem­po­rary land­scape can­vases.

The con­cept of land­scape is broad in this com­pe­ti­tion and en­tries in­clude more tra­di­tional in­ter­pre­ta­tions as well as ur­ban land­scapes, land­scapes of the mind and imag­ined spa­ces. There’s even a cen­taur-like chap wad­ing through a broil­ing sea of black plas­tic. ‘‘I was look­ing to re­cre­ate an or­ganic land­scape us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial ma­te­ri­als,’’ says artist Robin Eley of his en­try, ti­tled Im­mer­sion.

The raw Mediter­ranean-like beauty of the Fleurieu land­scape re­mains a mag­net for artists and writ­ers se­duced by the penin­sula’s dra­matic coast­line, the ro­mance of the river at the Mur­ray mouth near Goolwa (gate­way to the Coorong), and a hin­ter­land of vines, forests and green pad­docks grazed by dairy herds.

For vis­i­tors the chance to en­joy th­ese var­ied land­scapes in spring while imag­in­ing other ter­rains (and tast­ing a lit­tle of the lo­cal drop along the way) is a real treat. Many of the re­gion’s cel­lar doors have an earthy, rus­tic flavour but they’ve en­thu­si­as­ti­cally em­braced this con­tem­po­rary ex­hi­bi­tion.

At d’Aren­berg — host of the prize’s awards night and where ev­ery wine label is a mi­nor work of art — in­dus­try pa­tri­arch d’Arry (Fran­cis d’Aren­berg Os­born, 86) re­mem­bers hitch­ing the cly­des­dales in the old sta­bles, now a swish Wine Im­mer­sion Cen­tre (ask for a tour at the cel­lar door).

Other cel­lar doors on the prize cir­cuit in­clude Hardys Tin­tara and Chapel Hill, while at Wirra Wirra the lawns will be scat­tered with the ‘‘an­i­mist in­spired’’ works of Madi­son By­croft, win­ner of the youth sculp­ture com­mis­sion.

Th­ese days few artists are starv­ing in their gar­rets — and cer­tainly not on the Fleurieu, a ver­i­ta­ble cor­nu­copia of lo­cally grown veg­eta­bles, line-caught seafood, unc­tu­ous Jersey-milk cream and fab­u­lous olive oils.

At Penny’s Hill, host of an ex­hi­bi­tion of lo­cal land­scapes, chef and ded­i­cated lo­ca­vore Ben Som­mariva will dish up food to suit — wild olives, just-shucked oys­ters and per­haps twice-cooked pig’s cheek topped with braised abalone.

In the cute Wil­lunga vil­lage, an­other lo­cal food cham­pion, David Swain, keeps it sim­ple at the award­win­ning Fino (one of The Aus­tralian’s Hot 50 restau­rants, 2013), sourc­ing pro­duce from the Satur­day morn­ing farm­ers mar­ket that spills across the restau­rant fore­court.

There’s plenty here, among the or­ganic greens, crusty bread and veni­son pies, to in­spire chefs and artists alike, and it’s the ic­ing on the cake for art­lov­ing vis­i­tors to the Vale.

CHAPEL HILL

McLaren Vale is a patch­work of vine­yards, olive groves and scrubby hills

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