Paint­ing the Town of Tulbagh

Work along­side top artists on a three-day art re­treat

South African Country Life - - In This Issue - WORDS AND PIC­TURES FRANCI HENNY

You know you’re at a coun­try art work­shop when the work ta­ble is set up out­doors. Dap­pled sun­light spills across the sur­face. It’s sur­rounded by a riot of colour in the over­grown gar­den, a per­fect place for a pic­nic. But we’re at the Win­ter­hoek Art Stu­dio on a farm out­side Tulbagh to learn the se­crets of mono­print­ing from bub­bly, lo­cal artist Rochelle Beres­ford.

The land­scape is dom­i­nated by the pur­ple­hazed Win­ter­hoek Moun­tains, part of a range that em­braces the town. Steeped in his­tory, Tulbagh is the third-old­est town in South Africa, named after Dutch Cape Colony Gover­nor Ryk Tulbagh.

To the north is the Groot Win­ter­hoek Wilder­ness Area, a World Her­itage Site with an­cient rock paint­ings and pro­tected fyn­bos like the Tulbagh pow­der­puff. It’s art, though, that’s be­com­ing a big mag­net, at­tract­ing artists like Rochelle to the Boland town, where the an­nual Arts Fes­ti­val is get­ting na­tional at­ten­tion. But we are here on a more per­sonal mis­sion.

Our group of seven is a mixed bag of tal­ent, from the pro­fes­sional (art teacher

Anas­ta­sia Saranti­nou) to the some­what in­ex­pe­ri­enced (my­self). We’re on a three­day art re­treat of five ses­sions with dif­fer­ent ac­claimed artists – get­ting more of a ta­pas of ex­pe­ri­ences than in-depth les­sons. And we’re stay­ing in the charm­ing lit­tle cot­tages on Rap­tor Rise farm, with splen­did views of the Win­ter­hoek Moun­tains.

It’s a pretty in­ten­sive work­shop – the three-hour ses­sions are fun and in­for­mal but there’s a lot to pack in, with two ses­sions a day. There’s al­most no time to ex­plore the vil­lage or gal­leries, so book­ing a few ex­tra days to do your own thing is a good idea.

Rochelle’s home stu­dio is our first stop and it looks quite in­tim­i­dat­ing. Not the set­ting, mind you, which is a quaint farm­house with rows of rusty gar­den tools hang­ing on a wall, a moun­tain back­drop, an out­door work ta­ble. It’s the sight of a side ta­ble groan­ing un­der its load – piles of small lino blocks, an­other pile of wooden boards, a mound of cot­ton cloth, tins of gooey, black ink thick as trea­cle.

“It’s the same ink po­lice use to take fin­ger­prints,” says Rochelle. Which does lit­tle to sooth anx­ious nerves. But Rochelle quickly puts us at ease as we start with lino print­ing. “Your draw­ing doesn’t have to be per­fect. For shad­ing, you can even use your thumb to lift off ink.”

“It’s the same ink po­lice use to take fin­ger­prints,” says Rochelle. Which does lit­tle to sooth anx­ious nerves

She gives a quick demo print, then it’s our turn. Small rollers are used to ink up the lino blocks. A square of white paper is then placed onto the block, and you draw, or doo­dle even, on the back of that. “You can use any­thing to print on,” says Rochelle, “Even old mag­a­zine pages, like Wil­liam Ken­tridge does, then hand colour them. Just re­mem­ber a print will be the re­verse im­age of your draw­ing.”

Ex­pect the un­ex­pected. Mono­print takes on a life of its own. This is es­pe­cially true of fab­ric mono­print­ing, which Rochelle demon­strates next, with some good news for be­gin­ners. “You don’t even have to draw at all with fab­ric print­ing. A pop­u­lar tech­nique

is to use dif­fer­ent leaves, like a gera­nium for in­stance. The leaves cre­ate lovely pat­terns.”

Some of us rush to the over­grown gar­den to pluck leaves that are laid flat on a wooden board and smeared with paint. A piece of cot­ton cloth is placed over this and we press it down with a clean roller to suck up the paint. Again, we have very lit­tle con­trol of the out­come, so the re­sults come as a (some­times pleas­ant) sur­prise.

“It’s called ‘mono­print­ing’ be­cause you can only make one in­di­vid­ual print. If you do more of the same print, they’ll all be dif­fer­ent,” Rochelle ex­plains. “It’s im­por­tant to num­ber and date your prints so you can keep track of your work.” Once done, we hang our fab­ric prints on a nearby wash­ing line to dry – an im­promptu out­door gallery.

A few me­tres from Rochelle’s home is a con­verted barn, the stu­dio of Vasek Ma­tousek, his Czech ac­cent still as thick as a hearty goulash. The stu­dio is half art gallery, half work­shop that also houses a fram­ing guil­lo­tine and a pot­tery kiln – a one-stop art shop.

Vasek takes us through the in­tri­ca­cies of wa­ter­colour paint­ing. Ah, easy-peasy I thought, did this at ju­nior school. But it’s much trick­ier than it looks. “Per­haps the most dif­fi­cult medium of all,” says the artist, who also works in oils and ce­ramic.

He shows us how to stick the paper down with gummed tape so it won’t buckle when it’s wet – just one of the es­sen­tial lit­tle tricks. And again, con­trol of the im­age seems an im­pos­si­ble task. The paint spreads as soon as it touches the wet paper. Vasek brushes off my frus­tra­tions, “It’s all part of the process. Have fun rather than try­ing to be per­fect.” Still, I seem to re­mem­ber hav­ing done a bet­ter job in my early school days.

An­other day, an­other stop at an un­likely art venue – the Vic­to­rian Mu­seum, one of the now-re­stored build­ings in Church Street that were de­stroyed in the 1969 earth­quake. Here you’ll find pos­si­bly the largest num­ber of Cape Dutch, Ed­war­dian and Vic­to­rian build­ings in one street.

Be­sides its col­lec­tion of Vic­to­ri­ana, the mu­seum is also a gallery with a range of mod­ern art­works, in­clud­ing some of Su­san Smuts. To­day Su­san is demon­strat­ing still-life draw­ing with char­coal. An­other out­door class, but more con­ven­tional. We sit around a ta­ble on which ob­jects – a sculp­tured ox, a stat­uette of a tur­baned waiter – have been placed, and draw them.

It’s the lit­tle money-sav­ing tips that make the les­son valu­able. There’s no need to buy ex­pen­sive ‘fix­a­tive’ to make sure your char­coal draw­ing won’t smudge. Su­san uses

an or­di­nary su­per­mar­ket hair­spray.

A few houses up is the desti­na­tion of an­other work­shop, the Christo Coet­zee gallery where cu­ra­tor and artist Jan Barend Wol­marans has a sur­prise in store. There is no art equip­ment wait­ing. In­stead, we’re get­ting a les­son with a dif­fer­ence. Jan ex­plains how Christo Coet­zee painted his mas­ter­pieces. “It need not be per­fect. It need not be a com­po­si­tion. It must be the truth,” says Jan. “If you are an­gry, paint an­gry, if you are sad, paint sad. Ad­dress your prob­lems in your art.”

The fi­nal work­shop is on a plot near the rail­way sta­tion, at the stu­dio of Ian Si­mons. Most of the other artists have dogs as pets.

Ian has a chicken that fol­lows him ev­ery­where. His stu­dio is quite dif­fer­ent too. It was a small coun­try school, which he gut­ted to make one enor­mous room.

It’s so vast, it eas­ily ac­com­mo­dates his huge canopied bed, a pi­ano, gui­tar, and drums, a gallery of his paint­ings and, of course, a work ta­ble where Ian shows us the ba­sics of pot­tery. An­other pri­mary school mem­ory that now proves to be more slip­pery than a snake. But by now we’re used to ap­ply­ing the mantra that it doesn’t have to be per­fect. Most of our cre­ations aren’t, but there is some­thing quite ther­a­peu­tic in get­ting your hands grubby with clay.

At the end of each day, we’re treated to a dif­fer­ent art form – meals con­jured up by fa­cil­i­ta­tor and chef Es­ther Fourie. Think filet mignon, with mush­room and red-wine sauce, an­gelfish me­u­nière, with ca­per, al­mond, gar­lic and lemon-but­ter sauce. De­li­cious. Also the per­fect time for un­wind­ing and get­ting to know each other.

Ev­ery­thing is sup­plied on the re­treat. Other than your own booze (and a note­book), don’t bother to bring any­thing, es­pe­cially not your in­hi­bi­tions. Those too will soon be shed.

Tulbagh Art Re­treat, Es­ther Fourie 071 491 5354, forart­[email protected]

ABOVE LEFT: The first ses­sion of the TulbaghArt Re­treat gets un­der­way as Rochelle Beres­ford (fac­ing cam­era) ex­plains the wide scope of pos­si­bil­i­ties with mono­print­ing. LEFT: Good to wear a pro­tec­tive apron as mono­print­ing can be a messy busi­ness. Fin­ished prints are hung up on the line to dry.

ABOVE LEFT: With farm­land and veld a short walk from the re­stored his­tor­i­cal houses in Church Street, ex­pect to en­counter ‘vis­i­tors’ not of­ten found in ur­ban ar­eas. ABOVE: You won’t be short of equip­ment at Vasek Ma­tousek’s stu­dio. He even has a guil­lo­tine for mak­ing his own pic­ture frames, and a kiln for pot­tery.LEFT: Many of the houses in Church Street that were re­stored after the dev­as­tat­ing earth­quake in 1969 are now art gal­leries, mu­se­ums and restau­rants.

ABOVE: “Don’t try to be per­fect. Rather have fun,” Vasek Ma­tousek en­cour­ages the group. Hang­ing in the back­ground are sam­ples of the pic­ture frames that Vasek makes him­self. RIGHT: Jan Barend Wol­marans speaks pas­sion­ately about the late artist Christo Coet­zee pic­tured in the pho­to­graph be­hind him. Coet­zee was a bit of an enigma back home (he was South African-born, and re­turned to live in Tulbagh in his later years), but was in­ter­na­tion­ally fa­mous, paint­ing with the likes of Jack­son Pol­lock. BELOW: Busy do­ing char­coal draw­ings at an out­door work­shop at the Vic­to­rian Mu­seum.

LEFT: Ian Si­mons sets up a ta­ble for a pot­tery work­shop in his stu­dio; a for­mer school that is now also his bed­room, lounge and gallery in one huge space. BELOW: A rare chance to re­lax in the back gar­den of the Christo Coet­zee gallery dur­ing the Tulbagh Art Re­treat when you do two three­hour ses­sions each day.

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