Friday, February 05, 2010

Kouga Art

There is a lot of Art in the Kouga, we have been told. We have yet to explore the various sites, hidden as they are in Kloofs and cliffs. We have seen some rock art , in the Cedarberg, beautiful big works, in absolutely deserted places, where we stood in awe as a family, and listened to a silence more intense than we had ever experienced before.

I think I had read something about Martin before I met him. He is quite famous in Art circles. Rumours abound about him having lived in a cave, then somewhere in Clarens. I heard from his own mouth that he often uses the same materials that those other artists did long ago, on their stone cave wall canvases. His canvases echo those tones of red, ochre, browns, tans, a startling pink, an electric blue.

Mostly Martin reminded me of a stroller when I first met him. Those ragged, bearded men of the mountain in Cape town, who live outdoors, strolling those upper Cape Town city avenues. I guess he is a little like that, having chosen to buy a piece of land himself in the Kouga mountains, and to live an unplugged life, in the middle of nowhere.

We had a long chat, leaning on a railing outside the ATM one day, after he had walked for six hours into town. He rolled BB cigarettes, and talked about himself. His is a very specifically South African story, spicy and peppered with those names - Big Ben Dekker, Braam Kruger, Bobs Bar... Ja, ja, and our heads nod, remembering army times, the border, passes, train journeys and waiting on platforms for 'bossies' boys to return to a very different South Africa.

There was talk of the Joburg Art scene, many wives, a number of children (an edge of pride when he mentions them still) and THOSE Jesus pictures, touted by Barnard. Your patron, say I, my patron Saint, says he. So why Jesus? I ask nonchalantly, and he looks off into the distance, then fixes me with his ( which one is it?) artists eye and states matter of factly that here, in the Kloof, there is a market for such pictures. Jesus with closed eyes, painted with the pigments of the Khoi found in caves.

We were invited to visit him, in his Kloof. We heard of his boy child, who lived with him there before, and Barnard brought out, wild child that he was, to go to school. Others also told us of this extraordinary child. They spoke of a boy who loves swords, medieaval battles, words and, of cause, art.

We met him one day when we ourselves were childless, and we went in to the Kouga to escape work and our empty house. The boy who met us wore an empty milk carton on his head, with holes for eyes, a trenchcoat, oversized gloves, and spoke with a robotic voice!

In time he shed his disguise and took us for a hike down an overgrown path to wondrous pools set in rock amidst high cliffs and overhung with ferns. We swam in the cool water, but I missed our children as I watched this wild boy, emerging from the water, fully clothed, a knife strapped to his upper arm, like some lost soldier in the jungles of Vietnam.

It was a few weeks later that my children visited. They went in with the Dominee and his family, and slept over without us. They returned exhausted, telling tales of very little sleep, of long swims clambering from pool to pool. They spoke of stick fights and fires burning, of leopard crawls through the bush and exciting, creative games under the trees, mostly imagined up by the boy, leading them on, sharing his world with them.

The children stayed in the Dominees campsite, of caravans and tents, but no doubt vertured into Martins territory. A land of half hearted buildings, of cob and wood. Of kaross spread sleeping places, collapsed trucks and cars.A territory strewn with half completed paintings left to be ruined by the sun and rain. A land where completed works jostle with unruly piles of books, tottering in their own haphazard formations.

When I passed through Martins landscape a stroke of white paint painted my trouser leg. The place has a seam of paint running over it, through it, saturating it. In fact, his entire world there in the Kouga is like one large living installation, to be breathed in, wandered through.

The children saw it all, accepted it and lived quite comfortably within it for a couple of days. Georgia said she wanted to stay. Jethro, with the distance of his age, had not immersed himself as totally. Georgia brought her clothes home in three plastic bags. I opened them for the wash and found them to be caked, soaked, encrusted with sand and mud.
Every item was coloured by earthy pigments, in shades of brown, tan, ochre. The children spoke of electric blue skies , red fires and startling pink sunsets. No doubt those pigments coloured their dreams as they slept for 13 solid hours, back in the cosy comfort of their beds.

Thanks for being there Martin. Here in the uniform land of schools, schedules and timetables you remind me that that territory is there, peacefully painterly and beyond bounderies.

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