As creative souls continue to flock to the Southern Cape to escape the rush of city life, several remote galleries and studios have popped up to display the fruits of their new-found peace. South discovered four such havens in the Klein Karoo.
WORDS Tisha Steyn PHOTOGRAPHS Hans van der Veen
When Allana Willox Fourie and husband Pierre are not painting and building television and movie sets for the likes of Sean Penn and Kokkedoor, they can be found on their family farm in the Kykoe Valley in the Bo-Langkloof, about 30km from Uniondale.
Here Allana also has Kannabos, a spacious studio/gallery, which she shares with artist friends. Pierre and his dad, also Pierre, built the space from straw bales packed in chicken wire, and plastered it with a mixture of straw, lime and clay from the nearby river, creating natural red ochre hues.
“The film industry is addictive,” says Allana, her magenta eyes lively. “I love the collaboration with other artists while creating something together. I become alienated when I work here alone.” Hence the friends who come to work with her in silent harmony, drinking tea and eating milk tart, and displaying their art alongside hers.
“I use a medium to express something I am experiencing. I love to paint loosely, with very thick paint – it’s called impasto – it is very free.” But she also uses pastels and coloured pencils for more detailed work, and is starting to experiment with etching. “Your art is you, and you are your art,” she believes.
The succulent nursery outside lends inspiration, not only to her pottery. “The fine detail of the succulents is ideal for etching, so I want to explore this.”
Kannabos Gallery is on the R62 about 30km outside Uniondale on the Oudtshoorn side. Open daily from 8am to 5pm. Allana Fourie 083 444 5237
Roger Young fell in love with the Kruisrivier Valley while working on a film in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2006 that he and partner Phyllis Midlane realised their dream of living and working there.
Roger, a woodwork artist and photographer, and Phyllis, a costumier and puppet-maker, moved here from Simon’s Town and immediately set out to restore the buildings on both sides of the Kruisrivier Road, which winds through the green valley: “My studio used to be a schoolroom with 70 kids and one teacher,” Roger says.
Here he creates tables, cabinets, beautifully carved mirror frames and – just for fun – pretty wooden bowls. “I make things to order, but even if not, the pieces usually sell quickly – especially those I had planned to keep!”
The finished products are displayed in the gallery, along with Roger’s black and white photographs, of which he sells prints. These photographs perfectly capture moments in the everyday lives of the people of the valley. “I love these people,” he says passionately. The gallery also showcases some of Phyllis’ work, including papier-mâché sculptures and fabric handbags.
Phyllis, with the elegant poise and grace of a ballerina, learnt her skills with needle and thread at her mother’s knee. After her dancing days were over, she focused on designing and making intricate costumes for local and international ballet, opera and theatre companies, as well as breathtakingly beautiful wedding dresses. She also dresses puppets for the well-known Handspring Puppet Company, and did the material engineering for the internationally acclaimed War Horse theatre production. She will also be re-costuming puppets for the international opera Il Ritorno d’Ulise, which goes on the planks next year. “Commissions from Handspring add a welcome additional income,” she says.
Roger, who was fired as a teacher for being “too creative” many years ago, also presents photography courses.
Once visitors have experienced the tranquility of the gallery, thriving kitchen garden and nursery, they tend to return. “People often visit the gallery and end up having supper or staying over in the cottage we hire out on the premises,” says Phyllis. “We are living our dream. This is where we have found our roots and one is always conscious of the beauty of nature,” they conclude.
Kruisrivier Gallery is about 34km along the Kruisrivier turnoff from the R62 between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp. Open daily from 8am to 5pm. 044 213 3296
Another to have swapped the demands of commercial arts for a studio in the bundu is Marcia Vermaak, who left Johannesburg and her very successful set building business in Bezuidenhout Valley to settle along the Groenfontein Road last year.
She designed the house/studio, which also doubles as gallery. “It is more a studio where people can watch me work than a gallery,” she says, pointing to shelves stuffed with goods usually found in hardware stores.
Here she works magic with materials such as resin, polyurethane and gypsum, which she has used for 25 years to create movie sets for more than 40 films including District Nine, The Avengers, Adam Sandler’s Blended and most recently Neill Blomkamp’s Chappie.
“I was tired and needed a break,” she says, sitting at a table on the wide veranda, sipping ginger beer, overlooking a field where a neighbour’s calves graze. “The movie industry owns you, and you don’t have time for anything else.
“I searched the internet for two years for suitable property. One day I decided to stop dreaming and do something, or give up my dream.” So six years ago she bought the property 11.5km outside Calitzdorp. “I wanted a house with its own water and solar power, and with a mountain and river on it.”
Her art is extraordinary: her thorough knowledge of materials mainly used for set building, allows her to create amazing works of art, mostly sculpture – haunting creations with a message: ‘Melting’ ice men made from resin that sharply reminds of climate change and global warming; and faces of Africa in different finishes mostly created by stain, portraying the rich variety of the people of the continent.
Moviemakers still call her, but her answer is always a courteous “No thanks”. “For now I want to concentrate on my own art: there are so many different materials and new concepts that I want to try out. I am surviving on my savings, but hope to interest people enough in what I create so that they would want to buy it.”
For an extra income and much to the delight of Calitzdorp residents, Marcia offers outdoor movies twice a month. “They bring their picnic baskets, folding tables and chairs, and watch a movie under the stars…”
Marcia’s Studio is 11.5km down the Groenfontein Road outside Calitzdorp. Open 8am to 5pm on most days. 082 338 8782
Once an old post office serving areas as remote as Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), the Oude Poskantoor gallery outside Calitzdorp is a weekend-only affair of art, food and stoep talk.
Mike Muuren and Peter Giani, an interior decorator and horticulturist respectively, work from Glentana in the week and bought the property in 2008 as a weekend getaway.
The Oude Poskantoor housed a post office during the late 1800s, and in later years also a general dealer and petrol station.
Mike and Peter turned the building into a gallery where mainly local and regional artists display their art. Some of the artists are Helen Pfeil, Anny Maddock, Irma Welman, Dennis Kalil, Amri Pretorius, Leonie Brown, Doris Brand, Benjamin van Wyk and Esbé Grabie.
“The gallery is informal, and anybody who believes their art is beautiful may display it here,” says Mike.
Eventually a coffee shop was set up on the stoep, where visitors like to linger over a menu of light snacks and cold and hot drinks. “We are completely off the grid: no municipal water or electricity, only solar energy and water pumped from the river. It has been going surprisingly well. If we were to open the gallery four days a week, we might afford to do this full time, but we are not ready to retire yet!”
Oude Poskantoor is situated on the Groenfontein Road, 14.5 km outside Calitzdorp. Open Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 5pm but locals are known to visit until late. Mike Muuren 083 285 4751