A celebration of the land
The Fleurieu Art Prize brings a rich new focus to South Australia’s lovely McLaren Vale
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.
McLaren Vale is a patchwork of vineyards, olive groves and scrubby hills