Category Archives: Art

Parks and pencils, a lesson in colour

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Sprocket Rocket, Fujifilm Superia 200

I sat beside a rock, switching between quick-sketching passers by, and slowly detailing a drawing of the skyline that I returned to every time I visited the park. It had been my neighborhood retreat; a patch of green overlooking the bustling grey city. Overlooking it, but removed from it, as if offering perspective and distance from the trudge of the high-rise life. Here I could escape into a novel, disappear behind a lens, or immerse myself in my own pencil-point world.

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On this particular winter afternoon, I had retuned to my skyline drawing after a considerable interlude, and I was lost in the shadows and the trees. A small girl appeared beside me, maybe three or four years old, a dummy throbbing beneath her sweet little nose. She must have been standing there for some time, because as I looked up she was ready with her question; head tilted to one side, “What are you drawing?” I held my sketchbook up to the horizon, expecting she would make the connection. Still she looked perplexed. I pointed, “The city skyline. Can you see?”

“But why are there no colours?”

I was enchanted by this little sprite of a child. She plonked down beside me and watched me draw. I had many pencils, but she was right, I had no colours. Nonetheless, she accepted my offer of joining me. Her nondescript lines and shapes, the innocent interpretation of her surrounds was far more imaginative than my own. I was transfixed.

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Unabashed and unconstrained, she assumed a connection with me in a way that is all too uncommon amongst adults; a momentary friendship requiring only the acknowledgement that we are both human. We shared each other’s company as if we were lifelong friends with nothing left to tell, leaving only common knowing and common being, quiet and content.

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In the midst of this magic, a close friend of mine arrived to meet me, and found me sitting cross legged on the grass with a glowing bundle of freedom. She had brought me an apple, which my new friend was also eager to share. And so we sat, three girls, eating apples and enjoying the last rays of sunlight, until the little girl disappeared again, just as quickly as she had arrived.

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Another National Arts Festival

At last my journey has begun. A few months of reflection and planning have finally transformed into an adventure, and so far it has been wonderfully wild. While i gather my thoughts and organise my photographs from Tanzania, let me share some pictures from the few days I spent at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown before I left.

I’ve been very privileged to attend almost every NAF for the last 20 or so years, having grown up in Grahamstown. You might think this kind of ease of access would breed contempt, but I can’t think of a year when I didn’t thoroughly look forward to and enjoy the festival. This year I was only around for a few days, but I still managed to see some fantastic shows, musical performances and art. Somehow, though, the most precious experiences are the ones that aren’t planned: the little busker that can only play two notes; the local field band you stumble upon on your way to an exhibition; or the tiny dancer that doesn’t realise that anybody’s watching. You may also notice that I have developed a subtle obsession with children.

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Strangers and Street Art in Joburg

Some of my most uplifting experiences, both whilst travelling and in daily life, come from the tiny interactions I have in passing with strangers. Sometimes it’s an exchanged glance or a quick conversation, even something glimpsed in the distance, other times it can be a spontaneous interaction that extends for hours and can even evolve into a lifelong friendship. As much as I love travelling and exploring with friends, I often find myself doing these things alone, and I’ve come to realise that this is when I’m most receptive to the chance encounters which add interest to my day.

I had one of these moments on my recent Red Bus Tour in Joburg. I took a little stroll down Carr Street in Newtown, a street that’s known to be lined with cool graffiti, and met a guy who was taking a break outside. He walked the street with me, and we chatted about art and life and work and happiness, and then I left, feeling a just little bit more connected to the world. Carr Street, by These Walking BootsCarr Street, by These Walking Boots Carr Street, by These Walking BootsCarr Street, by These Walking Boots Carr Street, by These Walking Boots Carr Street, by These Walking BootsCarr Street, by These Walking Boots

Tea with King Ferd the Third

Walter Battiss Museum, by These Walking Boots

In Somerset East there is a museum dedicated to the work of South African artist Walter Battiss. The collection was donated by Battiss from his private collection toward the end of his career, and is housed in a beautiful building that used to be his father’s hotel. Being only a two hour drive from Grahamstown, I’ve been longing to go there for years. On Sunday, my parents and I made an adventure of it.

Walter Battiss Museum, by These Walking Boots
On arrival at the museum, we were shown a video that was shot with Battiss at the age of 76, or 106 … or 6, depending on his mood. In the end, for Battiss, it’s all the same thing, as we’re all the same age in cosmic time. I like that. Walter, with wise words and a warm disposition, invites you into his home, into his world, onto his island, Fook Island, before strolling around the museum to view the collection of his work. “Come and have a cup of tea with me,” he says, as he pours two cups of tea.

Man Painting a Rainbow That’s Disappeared – love it!

Detail, Girl Dancing in the Wind

Detail, Girl Dancing in the Wind

Despite being the largest collection of Battiss’ work in Africa, it is only a tiny portion of the prolific artist’s diverse repertoire. Nonetheless, there’s something special and homely about it. As if it’s just how Walter would have wanted it. Small and true.

Love these little ghosts

Love these little ghosts

Fook Island is a “fake” island, that Walter invented himself. Like me, he was sick of conceptual art that wasn’t anything to look at. So he created a fake island as a form of commentary and decided to make it a real thing. “It is something that does not exist. I thought that I would take an island – the island that is inside all of us. I would turn this island into a real thing … I would give it a name”.  He didn’t only give it a name, however, he gave it a currency, and postage stamps, a language with a unique alphabet, even a passport for official citizens. And Battiss himself was King Ferd the Third of Fook, his Fookian flag proudly hoisted in his garden when he, Rex Insular Fookis, was in residence.

Fookian clothing, including Rex Insular Fookis’ jersey

Fook Island, notice “a sacred heap of ancestral stones” and “dried fruit”. Perfect.

Fook Bank Notes

Fook Stamps – check out the hole in the wall 

“You will seek in vain on maps for the location of the island, for it eludes conventional cartography.  It is not a place you arrive at, you are either there or not there.”

Strangely enough, I think there’s a reason I didn’t get to see the museum sooner. I loved Walter Battiss and his kooky Fook Island philosophy when I first encountered him at school, but I’m not sure his take on life and art resonated as much with me then as it does now. As I embark on my own journey to abandon the normative constructs I have gathered through my life thus far, the simplicity and relaxation with which Walter lived his own life is an inspiration. “Better to be a great big spectacular failure than a small success.”

Man Expoding!

Man Exploding!

Nigel Mullins’ Chaotic Region

Two weeks ago I went to an exhibition opening at Scifest Africa, South Africa’s National Science Festival held annually in Grahamstown. Yes, that’s right; an art exhibition at a science festival. Amazing.

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Nigel Mullins is a renowned South African artist, and he happens to live in my hometown. In fact, I spent many an afternoon in his garden, as a friend of mine has been living in a flat on his property for several years. I have even cooked in his kitchen when he wasn’t there (don’t tell anyone).

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Besides my claims to knowing him, Nigel is a fantastic artist. His exhibition, Chaotic Region, explores the relationships between art, science and superstition; between evidence and the unknown; and our attempts to explain and predict in an otherwise uncertain world. Carefully detailed, almost photorealist images contrast frantic, impasto cameos. The artist explores, among other concepts, the effect of scale and text on our ability to perceive pieces of art as amulets.

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Nigel Mullins' Chaotic Region, by These Walking Boots

Nigel Mullins' Chaotic Region, by These Walking Boots

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My favourite part of the exhibition was a series of lucky cats – the popular eastern waving talisman – each one painted in a different mood, as if tracking the cat’s own mood through a frenzied tantrum and back into calm, rhythmic waving.

Nigel Mullins' Chaotic Region, by These Walking Boots

The lucky cats contrast the unlucky dog, Laika, sent to space in the 1950s as a scientific sacrifice. A broader study of early space exploration is undertaken through a series of images of Aldrin and Armstrong. One particularly appealing picture of Armstrong was painted in an afternoon, and the following day, Mullins read in the newspaper that Armstrong had died. Ironically, this moment itself represents an unexpected interface between science, art and superstition.

Nigel Mullins' Chaotic Region, by These Walking Boots

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i exist

Just before leaving my job, I discovered that one of my colleagues, Aalia, has a secret life. After hours, she’s been quietly working away at an amazing initiative called i exist. This is a really cool project. How it works is that emerging photographers and artists submit pieces that express why they exist to one of the drop off points around Johannesburg; the artwork is exhibited at an i exist exhibition at the Maboneng Precinct, and sold. The proceeds go to charities that promote sustainable educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth; the artist gets exposure; and somebody gets a great piece of original art. Everybody wins!
It’s a super cool idea, and as someone who dabbles in photography, I know how hard it is to think about transcending the realm of whippersnapper and to really start thinking of yourself as an artist. In fact, I’m in the process of choosing one of my own pictures to submit to the next exhibition. Watch this space…
Check out the very cool i exist website for more information about submissions and exhibitions, or just to read more about this innovative initiative.
The i exist team
“I exist to be heard” – Aalia Cassim
“I exist to light the way” – Adam Deane
“I exist to be amazed” – Sabeeha Jhetam

Pigeon Square

Market Street, Ferreirasdorp

The story goes that there’s an old Muslim trader in downtown Joburg who, for years, has put out crumbs everyday for the birds on this oddly shaped island in the middle of Market Street. A more recent development are the origami-like statues of pigeons, that serve as perches for these city fouls. I really like the statues. Who makes perches for pigeons? I’d like to meet you…