A mock naval war is underway in the bay in front of the Tibetan Tea House where I’m having coffee and seedcake. One after the other, three women arrive, shouting happy greetings as they sit down at the table next to me. A young copper-haired woman (Trish), an older blonde woman (Beulah), and a small, dark-haired cyclist (Tessa), whose left foot is tapping out a nervous rhythm. She arrived clutching her helmet and is wearing tight-fitting cycling shorts and studded shoes.
All three of them seem to be in the process of renovating their homes.
‘You know where the kitchen door used to be, before we broke through into the pantry, and moved the kitchen sink to under the window facing the oak? And where Mike used to have his office, where the bathroom is now?’ Beulah asks.
Her friends frown in concentration.
‘Not important,’ she continues, flapping her hands. ‘It’s all gone. We’re opening up that whole section of the house, and rebuilding.’
Trish scratches around in her handbag, and slides a business card onto the table. A pile of presents gets moved to the empty fourth chair. ‘Jack’s guy,’ she says, ‘take down his details. He’s the best. Did that other job, you know, the Rondebosch office park. He came to have a look at our mess. But it’s major. I don’t know if I have the strength.’
‘Oh, but you must do it!’ Tessa chips in. ‘It’ll be fantastic when it’s done. Open up the view…besides, you know what they say…a house is really only as good as its kitchen.’
Trish snorts. ‘Easy for you to say…all you need are a few down-pipes, maybe new gutters.’
Loosing interest, I turn my head towards the target practice outside, where a blue piece of sky is smiling through the dense grey cloud cover. The surface of the sea is molten green glass. Every now and then a dull thud is followed by jets of sea water, blasting up a spume of brilliant white. In the distance a submarine is approaching; its fin emerges, foaming a path towards us.
It looks quite cosy, I must say.
With only slightly lowered voices, the women move onto another topic.They interrupt each other with the ease of old friends; their sentences merging into one.
‘She says that she won’t…but you never know…I agree, she’s at that dangerous age…it’s like an itch she just has to scratch…it’s actually sad…yes, I know that’s what she says, but has she really done anything?’
Another shell hits the water, and I worry about the sound from the explosions, travelling underwater, disorienting the radar of sharks, whales and dolphins.
Happy shark. en.wikipedia.org
Beulah does most of the talking; words slide from her mouth like butter from a hot knife. Her eyes are cool though, holding mine with a steady gaze when she catches me staring.
Tessa coughs. She is the one who only needs new guttering and a few down-pipes.
‘God, I need a smoke,’ she declares. Her hair is caught in a low ponytail.
Trish attempts to resume the conversation. Her mouth samples several words; small, incoherent sentences emerge. Beulah leans forward, urging her on. Their heads nod in complicit agreement.
‘It’s so weird, you know, she actually told me…oh, how embarrassing…she hides it well…but yesterday she actually told me that they…you know?’
Beaulah gives a little snort, before serving the next volley.
‘If only she wasn’t so stupid. I mean, whose fault is it anyway? She’s out of control…but she tries to be good…yes, I know, she organised that whole fair, fête-thingy…yes, she’s good that way…but you know what I mean…shhh, here she comes.’
Three bright smiles greet a tall woman walking towards the table.
‘Happy birthday!’ they chorus. ‘God, you look marvellous!’
Rain, rain, rain. A good day for working.
Caroline Slotte, Catherine Ulitsky, Yedda Morrison, Hatch Crosby.
I recently ‘found’ these four artists, and their glorious work, on the internet. I think of their work often, while busy with my own. It slows me down, forces me to reavualte what I do, and why. Viewing Caroline Slotte’s work was a punch to my solar plexus – why oh why, I agonised, am I not making ceramic pieces anymore? I adore her work and secretly fantasise that my ceramics could have achieved her heights, if only I hadn’t moved to painting, and writing.
Caroline Slotte From the series Rose Border Multiple, Multiple Blue I, reworked second hand object, 2007
Photo: Tuukka Paikkari
Raised in the rural Hudson River Valley of New York, Caroline Ulitsky’s work reflects her fascination with natural phenomena. In her series concentrating on the patterns produced by a flock of European Starlings, Ulitsky paints lines linking the individual birds, illustrating in an organic and geometric way the migratory nature of birds. The lines somehow liberate the innate design of flock formation. These altered photographs reveal what the artist calls, “the limitless complexity and wonder of the world we inhabit.” I agree, and marvel at their ethereal quality.
And then there’s Yedda Morrison, whose work “…takes as its starting point the human desire for permanence, a desire made acute by the inevitability of our passing. If photography itself is a manifestation of this desire, our attempt to arrest or ‘still life,’ plastic plants and flowers are a low-rent corollary. Suspended mid bloom and scattered throughout graveyards and empty parlors, they offer the promise of perennial youth, an eternal flowering, life ever after.” (I quote from her luscious website.) How splendid it would have been if I had thought of this!
I first saw Hatch Crosby’s work on the wonderful Jealous Curator blog (http://www.thejealouscurator.com/blog/) and I share the envy!
Now why didn’t I think of superimposing different cultural identities onto the various faces of our rainbow nation? Ours is a country obsessed with identity, and groups, and so-called cultural differences. I love the way way this artist comments on the issue of identity with this striking work.
Much inspired and uplifted by spending time in these artists’ company, I’m happy to return to what inspires me, and to my easel.