Revisiting our Landscape of Discontent: Walter Meyer at Oliewenhuis, Ten Years Later

Address by Andries Bezuidenhout at the opening of an exhibition of works by Walter Meyer at Oliewenhuis, Bloemfontein, 28 January 2010

Where Pierneef was the landscape painter of Afrikaner nationalism, Walter Meyer painted the landscapes of its demise.[1] This take on the work of landscape painter Walter Meyer by Lise van der Watt is often cited in descriptions of his work. In the work of Pierneef, she argues, “[t]he land is emptied out of any human activity, ready for the taking – a powerful representation of white ambition.” In contrast to this, Walter Meyer paints, “in the mid-1990s… almost anachronistically, the seamless and panoramic South African landscape once again. Similar to Pierneef, his landscapes too are empty of human activity, but unlike him, Meyer’s landscapes are also devoid of wealth and prosperity. Indeed, Meyer’s sparse landscapes are populated by ruins of farmhouses and vestiges of smalltown dreams, a land filled with abandonment, with failure and decay.”[2] To be sure, “Meyer’s art describes human displacement. His works retreat from narrative – they carry no promise for a brighter future nor are they nostalgic for a better past. Suspended in the ‘now’, his works proclaim not ownership and authority, but transience and temporary residence.”[3]

These quotations come from two articles published in 1997 and 2001, roughly ten years ago. Now, a decade later, does this assessment still hold? In ten years the geology and much of the geography of the South African landscape has remained the same, but a lot has also changed. Our cities and rural towns have been in constant flux. These are the sites of protests over a lack of service delivery, as well as grotesque public killings of people seen as foreign. In places like Wuppertal, members of the Rooibos cooperative are concerned about the impact climate change may have on their livelihoods.

But Walter Meyer has also produced new work in the past ten years. Now, fifteen years into post-colonial South Africa (to use the term “post-colonial” rather loosely), should we still see him, as Lise van der Watt argued, as the landscape painter of Afrikaner nationalism’s demise?

Some time ago I found myself mesmerised by a Pierneef painting in the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch; a modest piece, simply called “Dorpstraattoneel”. Strangely enough, unlike Pierneef’s massive station panels, it reminded me of Walter Meyer’s work. The oil paint is thickly applied to the canvas, almost chaotically so. Up close it looks like a stew of unrelated colours, but when you step back, the harmony of the composition draws you in. Given my familiarity with Lise van der Watt’s argument on Pierneef and Walter Meyer, I felt quite awkward. Am I becoming an Afrikaner nationalist like my father? Why am I attracted to a painting by Pierneef?

Already a sufferer from insomnia, this kept me awake, until I read an internal memorandum written by a fictional character, H.K. Khoza, the chief executive officer of an unnamed company, to a certain Ms Williams, the art curator of the unnamed firm. The memorandum deals with the matter of a painting by Hendrik Pierneef, titled “Mountain Landscape”, which the art curator wants to remove from the boardroom to be replaced by a work by struggle artist Willie Bester. Williams sent the CEO an article on the work of Pierneef and highlighted, for his benefit, words such as “dispossession”.

Khoza writes his memorandum in response to this. He points out to her that he personally replaced a photograph of Tokyo Sexwale and a soccer team with the Pierneef, which, after enquiries from his secretary, he had found behind a filing cabinet in a dusty office. He writes:

“I have spent some time looking at Mountain Landscape. Occasionally, I bring a cup of tea in here, turn my back on our much envied city panorama, and simply gaze at that square of paint on canvas. There are golden foothills, soaring peaks in purple and mauve, storm clouds advancing or retreating. I get quite lost in it… Afterwards, when I return to the present… I feel as if I’ve been away to some high place where the air is purer. I feel quite refreshed. I cannot speak with authority – one day at the Louvre will hardly atone for a lifetime of ignorance – but I suspect this capacity to refresh the senses and the spirit is one of the marks of great art.”[4]

Khoza’s colleagues seem to agree with him. Leo Mbola from Telkom is convinced the landscape represents the Winterberge near Queenstown, where he grew up. Another colleague, Eddie Khumbane from Spoornet, describes the painting as “a prime piece of real estate”. Writes Khoza: “He stood there with his hands behind his back, gazing at the painting as if he owned it, and not just the painting but the mountains themselves, the lofty reaches of the Winterberg.”

He returns the article on Pierneef to the curator, with highlights of his own, particularly the phrase: “the proprietorial gaze”, which he sees as the nub of the argument in the article. Based on his colleagues’ response (and Eddie Khumbane’s assessment of the painting as a prime piece of real estate), Khoza feels the painting “is not at odds with our corporate culture”. He’ll keep the Pierneef with him in the boardroom, and the Willie Bester can be placed in the lobby for everyone to see.

Khoza, as mentioned, is a fictional character, in a story by Ivan Vladislavić published in the journal Art South Africa. Like all good art, it lends itself to a number of readings. On the surface it is a critique of easy political correctness. But there is also a more menacing reading, one that points to the fact that the African nationalist gaze of the new ruling elite on the South African landscape sits quite comfortably with that of Afrikaner nationalism. I’m sure Ms Williams, the art curator, would support the latter reading, and upon the dawning of this insight would probably make arrangements to emigrate.

The way we look at art has changed in the past ten years. Maybe I shouldn’t use the plural here. Maybe I look with a more guarded gaze, not unlike the security cameras at residential estates on the periphery of Johannesburg. I see less black and white; more shades of grey. But it is not only a decade’s altered perspectives that make us look differently at the work of the same artist. Walter Meyer’s work has also changed in the past ten years. The scenes we paint come to us depending on where we choose to live and travel. Meyer has chosen to paint new landscapes. I recognise the Kalahari to the north of Upington, the road past Groot Mier to the Namibian border, through Keetmanshoop on to Lüderitz. And then there is Cape Town, a number of seascapes. His beach scenes in Kalk Bay remind one of the Cape Town of J.M. Coetzee’s character Michael K. In addition to landscapes, we can also see a number of works in two of the other traditional genres; portraits and still lifes. It is almost as if Meyer mocks the avant-garde art scene, with its rising stars dancing on Pierneef’s grave. (I guess a Blom on a grave is appropriate.) It will be hard to parody Meyer, because he already does it so well himself.

But some things remained constant, such as the seemingly chaotic brush strokes, almost like stabs, and the slits of canvas allowed to breathe freely through the oil paint. When you stand really close, it is nearly impossible to imagine a picture emerging from such a bredie, a stew of colour. Yet, if you stand back, a truck roars around a bend in the national road near Upington, or you recognise that vintage Mondrianesque red Citi Golf parked in Kloofnek Road in Cape Town. Then you find your eyes are drawn to the sky. People often forget that the sky is one of the most important elements of a represented landscape. To paint light is the most difficult of all. Where, before, I admired Meyer for the fact that he was able to capture that bleak quality of the Highveld sky, he is equally adept at rendering the sky above the Kalahari, the township at Reitz in the late afternoon, and dusk in Kamps Bay. Indeed, I am in awe of Meyer’s landscapes in part due to his knack of getting the quality of South African light right. His is not an imposition on an African landscape of clouds hovering dramatically, yet politely, over the pastoral villages of John Constable. Our clouds look different, and differently so in different parts of the country.

In conclusion, Lise van der Watt’s description of Meyer’s landscapes in opposition to this romantic tradition of landscape painting: “Decay, neglect, abandonment, dereliction rather offer a more appropriate vocabulary to describe the mood of this work which seems ominously close to our present, in fact, too close for comfort.”[5]

I’m not sure if this description of the previous decade still captures his paintings over the past ten years. There is still the choice of unconventional scenes in his landscapes. Yes, it is possible to look at Table Mountain, one of the clichés of colonial landscape painters, from a different angle. Meyer paints the colossus as seen over the cusp of Signal Hill, with Duiwelspiek and Leeukop not even within view; almost like a tourist giving the landmark a last glance before departing for the airport. Rather than being too close for comfort, I find comfort in many of these landscapes, the pure brilliance of the technique and the beauty of the Kalahari, the Free State planes, and the township in Lüderitz, which you will find in the permanent collection of this museum. I lose myself in them, like the fictional CEO often loses himself in Pierneef’s “Mountain Landscape.” I wonder if my gaze is a colonial gaze. Maybe it’s a post-colonial one. When I look at some of Meyer’s landscapes, I feel nostalgic. But that is too vulgar a word for the enchantment one experiences when engaging great works of art. I don’t feel like someone in transit, I feel a sense of recognition and belonging. Call it a proprietorial gaze if you will, but one without the expectation that Jerusalem will descend from the sky on a land that is neither green nor pleasant. Up close it seems chaotic, even muddled. Yet, if you stand back, you recognise something of the beauty in the bleakness of our skies and the trauma on our landscapes. This is not about ownership and authority, nor is it about transience and temporary residence. It is an engagement of a different order altogether. Maybe we require new ways of looking, even eccentric perspectives, not unlike Walter Meyer’s landscapes.

Notes

[1] Van der Watt, Liese. 1997. “Exploring the art of Walter Meyer: Now is the landscape of our discontent.” Vuka, vol. 2, no. 4, pp. 25-31.

[2] Van der Watt, Liese. 2001 “Making whiteness strange.” Third Text, no. 15, p. 63.

[3] Van der Watt, 1997, p. 31. Van der Watt argues: “His [Meyer’s] work is a response to traditional landscape painting because it champions realism. For this reason, his art seems unfashionable, conservative even, in relation to contemporary artistic production here and in the rest of the world where realism, and indeed painting itself, have gone out of vogue. This penchant for realistic portrayal as well as the fact that Meyer prefers to work in the very traditional medium of oil painting, is quite surprising for an artist who received his training in the 1980’s when neoexpressionism, conceptual- and installation art dominated most academic institutions such as the University of Pretoria and the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf where Meyer studied for four and three years respectively between 1982 and 1989 – and indeed produced abstracted works… But it is through the kind of realism which he utilises now that Meyer manages to break away from the medium of traditional landscape painting. In contrast to early landscape painters like Volschenk, Hugo Naudé, Pierneef and even more contemporary ones, Meyer’s is a realism that is completely devoid of glamour or beautification and instead focuses on the ordinariness and banality of the South African landscape and platteland.”

[4] Ivan Vladislavić. 2007. “Mountain Landscape.” Art South Africa, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 47-48.

[5] Van der Watt, 1997, p. 31.

Brokke in die collage van afstand en aanwesigheid – met die opening van Walter Meyer uitstalling in Stellenbosch 2011

Kortverhaal deur Andries Bezuidenhout, voorgelees met die opening van die uitstalling “Walter Meyer: ʼn Verdwene oomblik in tyd”, Universiteit van Stellenbosch Woordfees, Sasol Kunsmuseum, 4 Maart 2011:

Album omslag van James Phillips and the Lurchers se Sunny Skies met skildery deur Walter Meyer
James Phillips and the Lurchers se Sunny Skies met skildery deur Walter Meyer

[Walter Meyer’s] work is a response to traditional landscape painting because it champions realism. For this reason, his art seems unfashionable, conservative even, in relation to contemporary artistic production here and in the rest of the world where realism, and indeed painting itself, have gone out of vogue…  In contrast to early landscape painters like Volschenk, Hugo Naudé, Pierneef and even more contemporary ones, Meyer’s is a realism that is completely devoid of glamour or beautification and instead focuses on the ordinariness and banality of the South African landscape and platteland. – Lise van der Watt

Realism has never been comfortable with ideas. It could not be otherwise: realism is premised on the idea that ideas have no autonomous existence, can exist only in things. So when it needs to debate ideas, as here, realism is driven to invent situations – walks in the countryside, conversations – in which characters give voice to contending ideas and thereby in a certain sense embody them. – Uit Elizabeth Costello

Landskap met rooi duine en kameeldorings, dink Melanie. Sy skakel die CD-speler af, want Elizabeth het in die passasiersitplek aan die slaap geraak. Elizabeth word wakker as ʼn klip teen die Fortuner se pens klap, dan dobber haar kop gelukkig weer vorentoe. Melanie voel ook vaak en verwissel van rat. By Kuruman het hulle van die nasionale pad afgedraai Van Zylsrus toe. By Askham vir water gestop, nou grondpad Mier se rigting. Vreemde name vir dorpe, Groot Mier en Klein Mier. Daarna deur die grenspos Keetmanshoop toe, bestemming Lüderitz. Die Kalaharilandskap laat haar weer aan Walter Meyer se skilderye dink. Sy dink die afgelope paar weke konstant aan hom. Sy moes nooit daardie brief geskryf het nie. Stupid, Melanie, stupid, stupid, sj… toepid! “Dear Ms Williams,” het die antwoord gekom.

Sy’t Walter Meyer die eerste keer op ʼn CD teëgekom. Wel, nie in die musiek nie, maar op die CD-omslag. Dit was 1993. Mandela was al drie jaar uit die tronk, maar in die Vaaldriehoek en Natal is mense daagliks afgemaai. Derde mag, Inkatha’s met AK’s in kattebakke. Sy onthou nou nog die naam van die skildery: “Huis Met Witboom”. Dit was James Phillips en die Lurchers se fenomenale album Sunny Skies. Sy het James Phillips se musiek natuurlik reeds geken, veral dié van sy alter ego Bernoldus Niemand. Sy’t hom elke nou en dan in Yeoville sien stap. Walter Meyer ook, maar sy’t nie een van die twee ooit ontmoet nie. Meyer was terug uit Düsseldorf, onthou sy, waar hy onder Michael Buthe studeer het, deels weens besware teen militêre diensplig. Ons kerk se mense, dink sy. Later het hy en Catharina ʼn huis in Pearston gekoop, sommer uit die Landbouweekblad. Toe Bethulie en uiteindelik Upington. Die droë plekke in Walter se skilderye.

Die skildery op Sunny Skies se omslag het haar onmiddellik getref. Die huis met sy mynhoopgeel bakstene, doodgerypte grasperk met ovaalvormige beddings, TV-antenna op die dak, ʼn dooie, wit boomstomp in die voortuin, die donker Hoëveldlug. Hierdie is die Johannesburg wat sy geken het, die een met sy dreigende, sonnige lug. Op Sunny Skies het James Phillips gesing:

Just when we thought it’s over we found it’s only just begun. Just when we thought it’s over we’re still dying like flies underneath the sun…[2]

Ja, onder die einste Suid-Afrika se sunny skies. Dis deels hoekom sy so van Walter Meyer se skilderye hou. Hy kry Suid-Afrika se lig reg. Mense vergeet dat die lug een van die belangrikste dele van ʼn landskap is. Om die lug se lig met verf te meng is moeilik. Meyer is meesterlik hiermee; die bleek Hoëveld, Bethulie se lug vol helder wolke, die effe rooi tint bo die Namib, selfs Seepuntpromenade se flets gloed as die son sak, sodat jy kan sweer Mickael K gaan nou met sy trollie verbykom. Meyer kry dit altyd reg om die lug so koud te laat lyk as wat dit is, amper afsydig bleak. Bleek is net nie ʼn akkurate vertaling vir bleak nie. Dalk ʼn kombinasie van bleek en desperaat?

Konsentreer op die pad, Melanie. Waardeer die landskap. So anders as Pierneef met sy pastelle. Dis Liese van der Watt wat die twee met mekaar vergelyk het, destyds in ʼn artikel in Vuka. Waar Pierneef die landskapskilder van Afrikanernasionalisme was, is Walter Meyer die landskapskilder van Afrikanernasionalisme se verval. “The landscape of our discontent,” het sy dit genoem, of só iets. [3] Melanie het weer daaraan gedink toe sy J.M. Coetzee se White Writing lees, oor hoe kolonialiste Afrikalandskappe sonder mense skilder – reg om oorgeneem te word. [4] Pierneef se geordende landskappe, die amper Europese dorpe, sonder blindederm-townships wat langs ashope ontsteek. Dis op daardie landskap wat Verwoerd se vragmotors mense opgelaai het en in die tuislande gaan dump het terwyl Afrikaners op Parkstasie na Pierneef se panele kyk om te sien waarheen die trein hulle gaan vat. Het jy nie by die fokken treinvenster uitgekyk nie, Pa? Dit lyk heel anders as Pierneef se kitch, of hoe? ʼn Treinvenster is tog ook ʼn raam met ʼn prentjie, liewe Pa, amper soos jou dierbare Nasionale Party se TV-skerms, dynserig van hot air en lugspieëlings.

ʼn Dreadlock het uit die rekkie in Elizabeth se nek geval en hang nou langs haar wang af. ʼn Portret, dink Melanie. Ons in ʼn portret, buite die vensterraam ʼn landskap. Hoekom verf mense nog landskappe en monteer hulle in rame? Walter Meyer se landskappe gaan oor mense wat in transito is, vervalle huise, skrootwerwe. Dit belowe nie ʼn beter toekoms nie. Hoekom hou sy dan so daarvan? Hoekom laat dit haar tuis voel? Kan ʼn mens só nostalgies raak oor verval en jou eie dislokasie? ʼn Deuntjie van Gert Vlok Nel kom draai in haar kop:

Moenie vir my alleen agterlaat in hierdie land waar hulle nog hekse verbrand nie hierdie aaklige, aaklige land nie…[5]

Sy weet Walter Meyer hou ook van Gert Vlok Nel se musiek. Die namiddag wat chroom word, net in olie op doek. Bethulie se motorhawe, nie Beaufort-Wes s’n nie. Ook nie Sutherland s’n nie. Walter Meyer staan teenoor Pierneef soos Gert Vlok Nel teenoor N.P. Van Wyk Louw staan. Destyds in Pretoria, in die tagtigs as student, het Walter Meyer sketse geteken vir die underground digters se little mags, soos Wurm, as sy reg onthou.

Sy kyk sylangs na Elizabeth. Happy-go-lucky Elizabeth. Elizabeth wat nie verstaan hoekom sy so ontsteld was oor Mnr. Khoza se brief nie. Dit alles oor ʼn blerrie Jatsenaam Hendrik Pierneef getiteld “Berglandskap”. Die skildery het in die raadsaal gehang. Sy wat Melanie is, as nuwebesemkurator, wou die Pierneef vervang met iets wat meer by die maatskappy se openbare beeld sou pas. Haar eerste aankoop was ʼn Willie Bester, ʼn lekker strugglestuk van rubber en blik, beslis iets wat meer oor die land se trauma as Pierneef sê. Maar hoe gemaak om die base te oortuig? Sy’t ʼn brief aan Mnr. Khoza geskryf en ʼn artikel oor Pierneef as die landskapskilder van Afrikanernasionalisme aangeheg. Sy’t ʼn paar woorde wat sy oog sou vang onderstreep, woorde soos “dispossession”. Sy wou hom nie patronise nie, dis net omdat hy so besig is!

Ag, heilige freaking whoever, hoe moes sy geweet het Mnr. Khoza het die Pierneef self daar gehang? Blykbaar ʼn foto van Tokyo Sexwale saam met die geborgde sokkerspan daarvoor afgehaal nadat hy die Berglandskap iewers agter ʼn leggerkas opgespoor het. Genoem dat hy spesifiek na die landskap gaan soek het. Nogal ʼn slag met taal, hierdie Khoza, haar mooitjies op haar plek gesit. Sy weet nie of sy die woorde reg kan onthou nie:

“I have spent some time looking at Mountain Landscape. Occasionally, I bring a cup of tea in here, turn my back on our much envied city panorama, and simply gaze at that square of paint on canvas. There are golden foothills, soaring peaks in purple and mauve, storm clouds advancing or retreating. I get quite lost in it… Afterwards, when I return to the present… I feel as if I’ve been away to some high place where the air is purer. I feel quite refreshed. I cannot speak with authority – one day at the Louvre will hardly atone for a lifetime of ignorance – but I suspect this capacity to refresh the senses and the spirit is one of the marks of great art.” [6]

Nog 30 km tot op Mier. Die liewe Lizzie steeds uit soos ʼn kers. Melanie onthou die laaste groot Walter Meyer-uitstalling by Oliewenhuis. Sy’t van Johannesburg Bloemfontein toe gevlieg daarvoor, maar haar aankoopbudget vir die jaar was boomskraap. Sy wou nie een van die kleiner stillewens koop nie. Daar was ʼn ongelooflike selfportret. Dit het haar diep ontstel en sy’t gehuil. Die Saterdagoggend ná die opening wou sy in stilte na die skilderye gaan kyk. Catharina Scheepers het ʼn groep studente van een of ander kunsskool rondgelei. Agter haar raindrop-bril het Catharina so half afwesig gelyk, tjalie om die skouers. Sy woon nou in Kaapstad en Walter in Upington. Sy praat oor sy depressie en sy werkskedule. Heeldag verf hy.

Die studente is egter meer geïnteresseerd in hoe hulle by die punt uitkom waar hulle ook R50 000 vir ʼn skildery kan vra. Catharina humour hulle. Soms is dit bloot geluk, sê sy. Walter was op die regte tyd op die regte plek. Sy eerste groot uitstalling was saam met opkomende swart kunstenaars, iets wat nog heeltemal nuut was in daardie dae.

Iemand vra of Walter Meyer ronde of plat kwasse gebruik. Ronde kwasse, sê Catharina en vertel dat hy ver van die doek af staan as hy verf, armlengte. Hy steek die doek, soos met ʼn mes, stap terug, staan nader, steek weer. Melanie wonder of dít is hoekom daar ʼn afstandelikheid in sy skilderye is, so al asof hy bang is vir die landskappe wat hy verf. Kan ʼn mens so letterlik wees oor afstandelikheid? Kan hóé ver jy van die doek af staan as jy verf só ʼn impak hê op hoe ʼn skildery lyk? As jy jou gesig naby aan die doek sit, onthou Melanie, sien jy chaotiese kleure, maar as jy terugstaan is Walter Meyer se landskappe amper superrealisties. Is dit hoe hy sy illusie van realisme bewerkstellig?

Ongeskonde lyk die Kalahari, dink Melanie. Met global warming en suurwater wat by Johannesburg se mynskagte uitsypel is om landskappe te skilder dalk die mees radikale ding wat ʼn mens kan doen. [7] Blykbaar loop die Cradle of Humankind die gevaar om deur hierdie radioaktiewe water versuip te word. Fossiele, alles daarmee heen. Hoe toepaslik sal dit nie wees nie, dink sy. Die wieg van die mensdom word die graf van die mensdom. Sy sukkel om nie hardop te lag nie. En nou soek hulle gas in die Karoo en steenkool onder die Wes-Kaap se wingerde. Hoe lyk dit met ʼn mynhoop langs Simonsberg, Stellenbosch? How’s that for progress, my liewe Pierneef? Lus vir ʼn knypie landscape performance art? That’s where the cutting edge is, my dear. Video en performance.[8]

Ai, die brief. Oor “Berglandskap” het Khoza se ander connections ook met hom saamgestem. Leo Mbola van Telkom was blykbaar oortuig die Pierneef is ʼn prent van die Winterberge naby Queenstown, waar hy grootgeword het. En daai Eddie Khumbane van Spoornet het die skildery as “a prime piece of real estate” beskryf. Hoe’t Mnr. Khoza sy reaksie beskryf? Iets soos: “He stood there with his hands behind his back, gazing at the painting as if he owned it, and not just the painting but the mountains themselves, the lofty reaches of the Winterberg.”[9]

Mnr. Khoza het die artikel oor Pierneef by sy brief aan Melanie ingesluit. Hy’t self ʼn paar woorde onderstreep, ander woorde as sy, soos “the proprietorial gaze”. As Eddie Khumbane dink Berglandskap is “a prime piece of real estate”, is die skildery “not at odds with our corporate culture”, het hy teruggeskryf. Dan die uitklophou. Mnr. Khoza sal die Pierneef in die raadsaal hou en die Willie Bester mag sy wat Melanie is, “Dear Ms Williams”, in die ingangsportaal sit waar almal dit kan sien.[10]

Die Fortuner skuif heen en weer oor die grondpad. Melanie dink aan Zander Blom en sy tjommies wat op Pierneef se graf gaan dans het. Avant Car Guard. [11] Sy’t by die Art Fair in Sandton ʼn meer bekostigbare stuk van Zander vir die maatskappy aangeskaf. Melanie wonder of hy ook besef hoe vreemd toepaslik dit is dat ʼn Blom op iemand se graf beland. Hoe moet sy Mnr. Khoza se brief lees? Bedoel hy Pierneef se kuns is so goed dat hy die grense van nasionalisme oorsteek, of bedoel hy iets veel donkerder met die “proprietorial gaze”? Is hy ironies daaroor? Of herken hy sy eie nasionalisme in Pierneef? Hoe maak jy sin van hierdie aaklige, aaklige landskap?

Voëlnes teen telefoonpaal, dink Melanie. Vandag sien sy landskappe met rame én titels deur die voorruit. Stamp in die pad. One for a video. Elizabeth strek en gaap. “Hey, girl,” sê sy.

“Jy wakker?” antwoord Melanie, “lus vir musiek?”

“Not if it’s the late James Phillips again. I was hoping fourty winks would save me from that fate,” mompel Elizabeth.

“Ek kan nie ophou dink nie, babe,” sê Melanie.

Elizabeth sit haar een voet teen die paneelkissie. Rooi toonnaels, die groottoon silwer. Vreemde sin vir kleur, hierdie enetjie, dink Melanie. Elizabeth sê: “Mel, you’re on holiday. We’re here to get away from your paintings and politics. Relax, enjoy the Kalahari.” Sy neurie “Ver in die ou Kalahari” se deuntjie, heeltemal van die noot af.

“Jy weet ek ken ander woorde vir daai song,” lag Melanie. “En as jy my weer Piernig noem, laai ek jou sonder water af.”

“That’s cruel,” sê Elizabeth, “and come to think of it, these barren landscapes must be the reason for all the heavy drinking among you arty types.”

“En wie’s nóú donker?” vra Melanie. “Just to lift the mood,  Sunny Skies,” sê sy en skakel die CD-speler aan.

Notas, erkennings, verwysings

[1] Die titel kom uit Breyten Breytenbach se “die onvoltooide vers” uit sy bundel Die beginsel van stof (Human & Rousseau, 2011), bls. 22-23.

Die aanhaling van Liese van der Watt kom uit haar artikel “Exploring the art of Walter Meyer: Now is the landscape of our discontent,” Vuka, vol. 2, nr. 4 (1997), bls. 25-31.

Die aanhaling van J.M. Coetzee kom uit Elizabeth Costello (Secker & Warburg, 2003), bl. 9.

Erkenning ook aan Ivan Vladislavić, by wie ek die meeste gesteel het om die storie te vertel. Sien: Ivan Vladislavić, “Mountain Landscape,” Art South Africa, vol. 6, nr. 2 (2007), bls. 47-48.

Verdere erkenning aan Marlene van Niekerk, “The Fellow Traveller (A True Story),” intreerede aan die Universiteit van Utrecht, 15 Januarie 2008, asook Die sneeuslaper (Human & Rousseau, 2010), spesifiek die hoofstuk oor “Die vriend”.

Baie dankie aan Sandra Klopper vir leesstof van kardinale belang en Irma du Plessis vir voorstelle en kommentaar.

[2] James Phillips and the Lurchers, “Fun’s not over,” van die album Sunny Skies (Shifty Music, 1993).

[3] In Pierneef se werk, skryf Van der Watt, “[t]he land is empty of human activity, but unlike him, Meyer’s landscapes are also devoid of wealth and prosperity. Indeed, Meyer’s sparse landscapes are populated by ruins of farmhouses and vestiges of smalltown dreams, a land filled with abandonment, with failure and decay.” Sien: Liese van der Watt, “Making whiteness strange,” Third Text, nr. 15 (2001), bl. 63.

In Vuka skryf sy: “Meyer’s art describes human displacement. His works retreat from narrative – they carry no promise for a brighter future nor are they nostalgic for a better past. Suspended in the ‘now’, his works proclaim not ownership and authority, but transience and temporary residence… His work is a response to traditional landscape painting because it champions realism. For this reason, his art seems unfashionable, conservative even, in relation to contemporary artistic production here and in the rest of the world where realism, and indeed painting itself, have gone out of vogue. This penchant for realistic portrayal as well as the fact that Meyer prefers to work in the very traditional medium of oil painting, is quite surprising for an artist who received his training in the 1980’s when neoexpressionism, conceptual- and installation art dominated most academic institutions such as the University of Pretoria and the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf where Meyer studied for four and three years respectively between 1982 and 1989 – and indeed produced abstracted works… But it is through the kind of realism which he utilises now that Meyer manages to break away from the medium of traditional landscape painting. In contrast to early landscape painters like Volschenk, Hugo Naudé, Pierneef and even more contemporary ones, Meyer’s is a realism that is completely devoid of glamour or beautification and instead focuses on the ordinariness and banality of the South African landscape and platteland.” Uit: Van der Watt (1997), bls. 25-31.

[4] J.M. Coetzee, White Writing: On the Culture of Letters in South Africa (Pentz Publishers, 1988). In Dirk Klopper se woorde: “J.M. Coetzee claims that for all their vaunted attachment to the country, white South Africans suffer from a deficiency of love. Their love, he says, is directed exclusively toward the land, and therefore ‘toward what is least likely to respond to love: mountains and deserts, birds and animals and flowers’.” Klopper kwalifiseer hierdie stelling deur na o.a. Hierdie lewe en Agaat te kyk. Sien: Dirk Klopper, “An Unsettled Habitation: Narratives of South African Landscape.” In: Michael Godby, The Lie of the Land: Representations of the South African Landscape (Iziko, 2010), bl. 39.

Sien ook W.J.T. Mitchell, Landscape and Power, 2de uitgawe (University of Chicago Press, 2002); Lieze van Robbroeck, “The Lie of the Land,” Art South Africa, vol. 9, nr. 2 (2010), bls. 66-67; Jennifer Beningfield, Land, Landscape and Politics in South Africa in the Twentieth Century (Routledge, 2006).

[5] Gert Vlok Nel, “Moenie my hier vergeet nie, Dixie,” van die album Beaufort-Wes se beautiful woorde, (Wildebeest Records, 1998).

[6] Hier ploeg ek krom vore met Ivan Vladislavić (2007) se kalwers. Die hele storie van Ms Williams, die kurator wat die Pierneef met ʼn Willie Bester-kunswerk wou vervang, is vervat in die brief aan haar deur ene H.K. Khoza, wat kom uit ʼn kortverhaal van Vladislavić in Art South Africa gepubliseer. Ek het besluit om Ms Williams se kant van die saak hier te stel, of wat haar saak moontlik sou kon wees.

[7] “Die mik van ʼn raasblaar, berei vir ʼn papegaai, sewe kepe in die sandsteen om die raaf te ontvang, ʼn strelitzia, met die vlagstok in die gleufwerk gereed vir die suikervoël. En daar was skoorstene en telefoonpale gespan in verwagting, en riete en gras in beroering van vertrek, ʼn opstel in afwesigheid, vol stootwind en glipstroom, en die speling van die verlewendigde lig.” Sien Van Niekerk (2010), bl. 185-186. As gevolg van ekologiese verval, beleef omgewingsgeskiedskrywing as veld die afgelope tyd ʼn oplewing. As voorbeeld sien William Beinart, The Rise of Conservation in South Africa: Settlers, Livestock, and the Environment 1770-1950 (Routledge, 2003) en meer direk op landskapskuns van toepassing sien Brett M. Bennett, “Reading the Land: Changing Landscapes and the Environmental History of South Africa.” In: Michael Godby, The Lie of the Land: Representations of the South African Landscape (Iziko, 2010).

[8] Hier is iets van die tragikomiese karakter Jimmy Harris se stem: “Video het ʼn lang pad gekom, my vriend. Dit het ver gekom sedert die sestigerjare. Dis serious stuff nou. Dis head-on. Dis angst-free. Dis ʼn cool take on contemporary life. Dit het nie die estetiese baggage van painting nie. Dit het sonder estetiese verwagtings gekom omdat dit aan die begin geassosieer is met televisie en newsreels. Dis freedom to explore, man – dis vryer as enige ander kunsvorm. Painting kom met te veel estetiese baggage. Jy kan jou gat nie daarin roer nie, of jy bots teen een of ander constraint.” Uit: Ingrid Winterbach, Die benederyk (Human & Rousseau, 2010), bl. 64.

[9] Vladislavić (2007).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Vir ʼn bespreking van “Avant Car Guard at J.H. Pierneef’s grave, 1954”, maar ook die rol van Pierneef as objek vir kontemporêre landskapskunstenaars, sien Godby (2010), bls. 126-127.

Voortreflike genetika

“Voortreflike genetika”, olie op doek, 40x50cm, 2015, R7 500
“Voortreflike genetika”, olie op doek, 40x50cm, 2015, R7 500

Title: “Voortreflike genetika”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 40x50cm, 2015

Maize (or corn, as it is referred to in the USA) branded in Afrikaans. “Voortreflike genetika” means something like “excellent (or outstanding) genetics”. On the N3 main road from Durban to Johannesburg.

Price: R7 500

To buy this painting contact: admin[at]andriesbezuidenhout.co.za

Openbare swembad, Brandvlei

“Openbare swembad, Brandvlei”, olie op doek, 51x61cm, 2015, R9 500
“Openbare swembad, Brandvlei”, olie op doek, 51x61cm, 2015, R9 500

Title: “Openbare swembad, Brandvlei”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 51x61cm, 2015

The empty public swimming pool at Brandvlei. “Brandvlei” means burning swamp or spring. There is very little water in the area. The town is near Verneukpan [tr: the dam or pond that cheats you], where South Africa’s version of the Burning Man Festival is held.

Price: R9 500

To buy this painting contact: admin[at]andriesbezuidenhout.co.za

Motorkarkas, Tankwa Karoo

“Motorkarkas, Tankwa Karoo”, olie op doek, 61x71cm, 2015, R10 000
“Motorkarkas, Tankwa Karoo”, olie op doek, 61x71cm, 2015, R10 000

Title: “Motorkarkas, Tankwa Karoo”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 61x71cm, 2015

A car wreck in the Tankwa Karoo, one of South Africa’s most arid regions. The Afrikaans title refers to a car’s “corpse” – the word “karkas” refers to a dead animal.

Price: R10 000

To buy this painting contact: admin[at]andriesbezuidenhout.co.za

Richmond insleepdiens

“Richmond insleepdiens”, olie op doek, 76x91cm, 2015, R12 000
“Richmond insleepdiens”, olie op doek, 76x91cm, 2015, R12 000

Title: “Richmond insleepdiens”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 76x91cm, 2015

Richmond is a town in South Africa’s Karoo – on the main road from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The town prides itself on its many book shops and holds an annual literary festival. This painting depicts the local breakdown service.

Price: R12 000

To buy this painting contact: admin[at]andriesbezuidenhout.co.za

Petrolstasie, Carolina

“Petrolstasie, Carolina”, olie op doek, 76x91cm, 2016, R15 000
“Petrolstasie, Carolina”, olie op doek, 76x91cm, 2016, R15 000

Title: “Petrolstasie, Carolina”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 76x91cm, 2016

A filling station at Carolina, a town in South Africa’s Mpumalanga province. The name Mpumalanga refers to the place where the sun rises. This scene is at sunset. Carolina, traditionally a maize farming area, is surrounded by coal mines. At some stage the town’s water was so acidic that it became unsuitable for residents to use for washing.

Price: R15 000

To buy this painting contact: admin[at]andriesbezuidenhout.co.za

Lord Milner Hotel se swembad, Matjiesfontein

“Lord Milner Hotel se swembad, Matjiesfontein”
“Lord Milner Hotel se swembad, Matjiesfontein”, olie op doek, 42x29cm, 2015, R5 500

Title: “Lord Milner Hotel se swembad, Matjiesfontein”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 42x29cm, 2015

The Lord Milner Hotel is a rambling, Victorian building on the railway line from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The swimming pool is at the back of the building at the edge of the establishment’s lush gardens. It forms a contrast with the arid Karoo landscape that surrounds it.

Price: R5 500

To buy this painting contact Anne-Ghrett Erasmus at the Breytenbach Gallery in Wellington, Western Cape, at:  galery@breytenbachsentrum.co.za

Graaff-Reinet, waar vragmotors stilhou

“Graaff-Reinet, waar vragmotors stilhou."
“Graaff-Reinet, waar vragmotors stilhou”, olie op doek, 61x76cm, 2015, R12 500

Title: “Graaff-Reinet, waar vragmotors stilhou”, by Andries Bezuidenhout, oil on canvas, 61x76cm, 2015

A night scene from the Karoo town Graaff-Reinet. The title refers to trucks that pass through the town’s main road.

Price: R12 500

To buy this painting contact Anne-Ghrett Erasmus at the Breytenbach Gallery in Wellington, Western Cape, at:  galery@breytenbachsentrum.co.za