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Pelser in action

Yes, it is a mere 5 months since my last posting, dear reader. I had an acute dose of blogophobia, which persisted despite the mutterings of my irascible blog coach. It took a visit from Monique Pelser to shake me out of my lethargy. We met in 2009, and by a remarkable coincidence, found that we had both been to the Pierneef Museum in 2006 and decided to follow his footsteps. It’s unsettling when someone else has also had your big idea, but we opted for co-operation rather than competition and so Pelser and I are going to be exhibiting together at the Stellenbosch University Gallery in April. Between us we’ve been to 27 of the 28 Station Panel sites, so its going to be a comprehensive show, with the photographs and paintings suggesting different ways of interpreting the landscape. The old harbour in my home town of Hermanus is one of the Pierneef sites, and Monique came out to photograph it last week.

J H Pierneef, Hermanus 142 x 126 cm. Oil on canvas

You’ll notice how Pierneef enlarged the buildings. He took a close up view of them and pasted it onto the view of the mountains. You’d have to be suspended in mid air to get a photo of that. Monique’s solution to the multiple perspectives often found in the Station Panels has been to use two cameras angled away from each other to give us an extended view of the sites. Painting and drawing outside, Pierneef would have spent many hours there. Today we tend to point and click and be on our way. We experience the landscape in soundbites and as a result we miss a lot.  So Monique has chosen to immerse herself in the landscape. She sets up her cameras at dawn and, taking a picture every five minutes, stays at the site until sunset. These  “photo sketches” are then projected onto a screen, giving us a remarkable record of a site over a day. To be viewed properly, the viewer has to give up their time, as if the photographer is urging us to put our own frenetic lives on hold to consider something bigger than ourselves. We may just find it was worth the wait.

the pencil has the last word

Ja. Sunday morning and I’m off to take a pic of the summer morning light on the old harbour in Hermanus.  The shadows in Pierneef’s painting of the harbour tell us that is when he did his sketches. It’s a beautiful day and there are bright yellow kayaks paddling across a placid sea.

spot the kayak

What is on my mind, however, is that I need to do a blog posting, and I’m expecting a call any moment from my blog coach, who lashes me if I don’t do a weekly posting. What should I write about? My recent sortie to Cape Town and the elusive Cape sites? The almost-getting-to-find the Stellenbosch site? A detour into Bellville and its period piece houses? Or should I write about an old trip to Louis Trichardt? Which way to jump?

meanwhile in Bellville...

Coach, I need a bit more time to think about this. A bit of time on the couch with the Sunday papers might help to ease the blogger’s block.

the blogger,blocked

That there is my new best friend, Lulu. Hoping the old bastard will go for a walk.

Pierneef’s depopulated harbour in the 1920s:

 

Gutting those fish.

 

A regular hive of activity. OK. So maybe he did the drawing on a Sunday morning when everyone was in church. Today the action is above the harbour, the Euro and $ the catch. (note trained tracker dogs sniffing for Euro’s)

 

Op soek na die Euro

 

The harbour from above: Pierneef took his view sitting  near the milkwood on the right. The rocky overhang below that is also a great place to draw from. My friend Harry Kalmer didn’t like the soporific watercolours I did down there – he said I needed to get back to Joburg!

 

overlooking the harbour

 

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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carlbecker.art@gmail.com

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