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I’ve had the brush in hand since early January,veering all over the place. The recently visited KZN Pierneef sites demand attention. Also, there’s the series of small portraits of writers and artists. I’m doodling with the pencil, digging up old photographs and reading, skipping around. I do drawings of Jan Rabie, the Sestiger with the sonbrille. I also delve into Nigel Penn’s “The Forgotten Frontier.”  Christopher Hope’s “My mother’s Lovers”  triggers a lot of memories of my home town. I’m thinking about big summer clouds and lush, alien gardens surrounded by surveillance cameras. I start work on two canvases, with Carol Lee’s “Vista” show in mind. Quite quickly, I lay down the bones for two related works: Green and Blue vistas. They both come out of recent travels. If ever there was a vista, the Drakensberg Amphitheatre is it. Appropriately, the work has Pierneefian overtones, but the real subject is the human “landscape” surrounding the Amphitheatre.

I start work on the blue vista – a blue version of the the Joburg skyline. I don’t know why, its just the idea of a blue city (and all that it implies). I use a photo of the city taken on the M2, the western side. I do small pencil drawings. The painting won’t look like the pencil drawing –  that’s just a trick to get me started. I map out a grid, which helps me transfer the detail of the photo to the canvas, but I don’t bother drawing in the outlines. I go straight in with a flat brush, using a lot of cobalt blue, some burnt sienna and titanium white, correcting as I go.

the first draft

the first draft

I’m taking factual information – the backdrop of the  city –  and I’m adding imaginative, narrative elements. I’ve started with the idea of a central female figure, but the pink face, the duck man and the photographer have cropped up as I went along, sparking new associations and meanings. I work some more details into the background and after a day or two I realize the pink face has to go. Then the photographer. Then I rework the figure on the left, as well as completely re-doing the central figure. A touch of cerulean blue in the background, a bit of subdued red, a few tonal changes, and there, its done. The rural woman  has come to town. The place of glamour and dirt, of re-invention and blue moments. The man trudges to town from China City adorned with gaudy plastic ducks. He sells them on the other side of town, where they float briefly in suburban swimming pools. He sees the girl. Perhaps if he sells enough he might buy some new clothes and she would notice him? But she has other things in mind. Is that the story? Maybe.

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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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