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I haven’t seen my old friend George for a while but clearly the heat and pace of life in Prince Albert continues to do him good. Not too long after moving into his new house, he bought an old barn across the road that is now his studio. Here he cultivated a true Karoo garden from cuttings acquired on his daily walks through the veld.

the waterwise karoo garden

One is confronted by hundreds of discarded metallic items, some of them domestic objects, others of baffling provenance. Some have retained their original identity, others have been combined to make surprising new forms. The installation continues….

hot off the press

Inside, George is applying the finishing touches to a small canvas. Its called  “Barbie meets the Queen.” That would be Barbs on the right, HRH in white and a terrifically grandiose damsel on the left who may have just exited a Velasquez painting. Is she the real queen? What’s going on here? I forgot to ask while I could. I was too busy admiring the silky washes of paint and the deft economy of line. In his world, figures from the Old Masters or 1960’s comics may find themselves in the jungles of the Congo as he wryly revisits his colonial youth. And with charcoal in hand, George has few peers. If you want to get a Coutouvidis, you have to make sharp. They sell out of the Prince Albert Gallery as soon as he delivers them.

So there’s no site. But I’ve got a tea date with George and Sheila Coutouvidis and I start the downhill glide. Its 20 kilometres of downhill all the way to Prince Albert.  I took the bicycle ride down a few years ago. You pay a guy in PA to take you up in his shiny Toyota. {Make sure your bike brakes are in good working order.}

This is what I’m looking for:

"Swartberg Pass" J H Pierneef c 1930

It’s not one of his best panels.  We get a sense of the size of the mountains, but there’s no drama here somehow. There’s a lack of illumination, no light source. The key to finding the site is the road of course. It curves around two hills, and there’s a hint of a river just off to the right. I’m halfway down the pass already and I happen to glance to my right and there it is:

at last!

I stop the car and let out a yell (as one does when finding a Pierneef site.) I’m in exactly the right spot. It’s about 3.30pm and there’s no direct sunlight anymore. That explains the lack of light too. Fantastic. But now I’ve got to go and have tea with George and Sheila. (Double click the pic and you should be able to see the second curve of the road clearly.)

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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