Monday 21 June 2010

Pieter's world

Famous South African artist Pieter van der Westhuizen said he knew at the age of four that this life was not for him. Born, as he said, "between the great drought, the depression and the Second World War" offered him little hope. Becoming an orphan at a young age did not help. His solution? "I began creating another world for myself - in pictures".

Until his death two years ago, he exhibited widely across the world and also became well known as an academic and author. He studied art at home and in Belgium and refined his knowledge of block-printing in Japan.

He painted landscapes, portraits, still-life figures and abstracts and was well known for works in pastel, oil, watercolour, pencil and various graphic media. Techniques picked up through years of studies and a man obviously obsessed with always discovering new methods.

It's that variety that strikes you when you go to see his work in the beautiful village of Philadelphia, a 20mn drive into the countryside outside Cape Town.

Currently displayed in the beautiful de Malle Meul, there are hundreds of his paintings, with sculptures he made dotted around the gardens. An almost childlike view on the world emerges through his representation of people and animals. He said he often paints those two subjects because they are subjects he sees the most, and two subjects he sees as the most beautiful. This is not an art blog so I'm not qualified to give an in-depth analysis but his portraits of women and minimalist landcapes are superb. Simple but so colourful amd emotive.

The venue, an old mill, offers the perfect natural backdrop. A wine tasting session afterwards offers an opportunity to reflect on what you've seen. We were lucky enough to also visit his old studio and the house where he lived. It's easy to understand why he was one of the most popular contemporary artists in South Africa.

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