Since February I’ve been working near Stanford on a smallholding called Wildgarten. I share a studio here with my old comrade Anton Chapman, who is taking a sabbatical from his life in Kiwiland. We work in shifts. Chapman is at his post early in the morning. I breeze in at lunchtime, cook Basmati and lentils, and push through till the evening. A vast oak tree dwarfs the house, and a pleasing expanse of lawn ends in the mauve and grey green Kleinrivier mountains. From the window we see drongos, sugarbirds, and statuesque grey herons. A pair of Egyptian geese have settled in.
Summer comes slowly to the deep south. After a wet winter there is every possible permutation of green you can think of. Here we are, well into our fifties, coming in every day and doing what counts most. Strange, then, that we’re often grumpy, even morose. Our shoulders are knackered, and our eyes aren’t what they used to be. Our heels hurt when we stand at our easels. We have deadlines and our bank balances are a joke. And then there’s the painting.
I’m doing a series of things on SA painters and writers. They’re supposed to be playful and discursive drawings; a relief after the very focused oils I did for the Bloem show. But I can’t get any traction. I seem to have run out of ideas. Soon these drawings will be on display and the world will know I’m a tired old fraud with nothing left to say. The history of art is full of creative struggles, and littered with those defeated by the difficulties: Van Gogh, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, the list goes on. And don’t get me wrong- I don’t like the idea that you should suffer to make art. Not one bit. I want it to be easy. But it seems inevitable that, if you’re going to make something worthwhile, there will be blood. False starts, self doubt and wrong turnings are the order of the day. Here is Bertha Everard, pioneer SA landscapist, in 1917:
” I do wish my picture pleased me more. It is in a most depressing state. Poor technically (I always find that difficult to endure, it touches my pride), unconvincing in line and sickly in colour…..”
A few days later :
” I didn’t work yesterday because I was too hopelessly depressed in every way. The beautiful sunny day failed to rouse me. I worked hard but only succeeded in making matters worse. Looking at it today I cannot find one piece of really able painting…..dreadful.”
Bob Dylan’s statement that behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain rings true. All the better then to be in this landscape that generously keeps offering new possibilities.
(Quote from Frieda Harmsen, The Women of Bonnefoi)