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Despite the charm of the house, I headed back onto the highway with a vague sense of loss. My conversation with Hans wasn’t all that optimistic, to tell you the truth. He doesn’t share his grandfather’s sense of permanence. He feels his children’s future may lie elsewhere, perhaps out of Africa. And then, cutting into the lane in front of me, my subject appeared. It was a little dented and moving quite fast.

White taxi 23 x 20 cm, watercolour

The minibus is not known for its respect for the rules of the road. To your average whitey, the minibus represents the End of The World As We Know It. Over the years, I’ve rendered a few of them. Initially it was a way of neutralising an irritant. (Painting can do this, for the artist and the viewer.) Later it became another little pathway to acceptance. In the Fordsburg studio though, the din from the hooting taxi could stretch your tolerance. Torrents of abuse would flow from the balcony onto Main Street. Sometimes the artists were known to flick paint from their brushes onto the offenders below.

The artist's revenge: Gridlocked by paint

Once, sketching at a taxi rank in the Jo’burg CBD, a man stood behind me and watched me draw. “Eish! You can say that is dangerous!” said he. I never worked out if he meant the drawing or the taxi. But I like the idea of a dangerous drawing. And the thing is, now that these dangerous little vehicles are being replaced by those lumbering high roofed ones, they’ve acquired a certain sentimental value. They’re becoming relics, symbols of an era. Rather like a Pierneef painting.

The first taxi painting - 1991, oil on board

J H Pierneef. Klipriviersberg, Alberton 140x126cm

Pierneef’s Alberton station panel. You can see this majestic house from the N12, the highway skirting Joburg’s southern extremities. Getting close to it is a different story. I lurched through a wasteland of barricaded nouveau Tuscan townhouses for at least an hour before finding the secret entrance into the lost world.

not this way

nor this

At the bottom of the koppies were signs of an ancient civilisation – one that had tilled the soil and ridden the horse.

I made my way past many outbuildings to the great house. There I was lucky to meet the lord of the manor, a certain Hans Meyer. Hans’ grandfather once owned vast land here – hence the nearby town of Meyerton, south on the R59. The house, built in 1881, was one of the finest in the old Transvaal. Here, despite being rudely engulfed by highways, Hans continues the tradition of farming and horse breeding.

casa Meyer

The Meyer patriarch put down some serious roots here. The metalwork was imported from England. Hans told me that Pierneef and his grandfather were friends. He would have stopped off here on his way to Henley-on-Klip and the Vaal river. He probably walked up the koppies in front of the farm to get his vantage point.  The highway is there now. I doubt if those tall trees that frame his painting ever existed – they’re put there to lead the eye into the perfect world beyond.

J H Pierneef’s Station Panels are cornerstones of South African landscape painting. They were placed in the old Johannesburg Station as adverts to travel the country.

But did these alluring places ever really exist? And how have they changed?

Taking up the invitation to travel 80 years later, Carl Becker set off to find out.

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