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On Life and Lizards

I’ve been living in the Kwa-Zulu Natal Midlands for 6 months now and I am gradually settling in. Most of the boxes-to-unpack have been unpacked and the studio is up and running. I’m getting used to the rhythm of the days, waking to the sound of birds and going to sleep with the distant call of jackals doing their nightly rounds. The days are generally spent in my studio, preparing and giving online classes, and tinkering around with new ideas for future workshops. I have recently completed a new painting of a scene from Kruger and another of the Eastern Cape. I have a second Eastern Cape scene on the easel as I speak, and it feels strangely comforting to be remembering the landscape that has supported and inspired me for the past 23 years. The process of art-making is therapeutic,( not that different to meditation), and I go into a zone where I release all anxieties about the future and relax completely into the moment. Nothing else matters except this mark and hue, whether I should smudge a little more and whether I need to deepen or lighten the tone. I am at peace as I watch the scene unfold.

The Old Voortrekker Road, Kruger. Chalk pastel. 98cm x 68cm
Evening Stroll. Chalk pastel. 68cm x 44cm

It is fortunate that I am in that rare situation where I have little to no responsibility beyond what I owe to my students, and I am enjoying the freedom to think, sit, play, walk and just ‘be’. It is a luxury that not many of us have and I am making the most of every moment. I am still in that liminal space, where what was, is gone and what is to come, has not yet fully revealed itself. I have a sense that something new is coming – something that will test my courage, tenacity and resolve, so in this brief pause after the hectic movement of the previous few months, I use this time to ask myself important questions about who I am now in this new environment and what I want going forward. 

Enjoying the morning sun. Photo credit: Anthony Stidolph

Before I came here, I wondered if I might find it lonely out here on the farm, but in truth, I have been too busy to consider aloneness as anything other than a friend. I enjoy my alone time and am not needy for companionship, but on the occasions when companions present themselves, I enjoy our interactions. I am lucky to have my eccentric bachelor brother living within calling distance and am glad that he hauls me out for regular walks across the conservancy, as not only do they keep me fit, they help to clear my head and gain perspective. They help me to feel part of the beautiful surroundings and engage more directly with the changing seasons, and to feel one with with this beautifully peaceful environment.

Heading out on a morning walk with my brother leading the way
Kusane

For sure, there are things that I miss about my previous life in Grahamstown, most particularly my friends, my garden, my beautiful art studio and the rugged open spaces of the E.Cape. But the spirit of all those special people and places are still within me, I can see them in my mind’s eye and hear them in my head. They are a part of my story and embedded in the immovably firm foundation from which I venture forward into the mystery of the unknown.

One month after I got here, I lost my sweet companion, Mia, a character-filled, opinionated little Scottie dog whose gentle, assured attitude and constant presence has been very much missed. I am, however, comforted by the fact that she now rests peacefully under the trees at the back of the house, amidst mossy rocks and ferns, watched over by the wild rabbit, Cape Robin and occasionally a couple of francolins, all of whom hang out up there. I am glad she is not alone and that her spirit still lingers in this place.

Mia

Whilst I no longer have Mia to keep me company in the studio, I have made another good friend… one who crept into my life quite unexpectedly.

A few months back, I was sitting quietly drawing at my studio table one morning, and was about to apply a blot of ink to my paper, when a brown, stripey lizard, otherwise known as a skink, came quizzically up to the edge of my page to see what I was doing. He (I’m told he is a ‘he’ because he’s bigger than the others), looked at me with bright alert eyes, his body shining in the morning light, and I, startled for a moment, paused mid stroke to watch him, watching me. It was a moment of mutually cautious engagement, where I dare not move for fear of frightening him away and he dare not move for fear of what I might do. I greeted the little fellow and gently raised my camera, which he obligingly allowed me to do. For the next fifteen minutes or so, we had a playful photo shoot, where he darted back and forth across my table, pausing to pose amongst my art materials, and constantly checking to make sure that I was still engaged. When I put down the camera to resume my drawing, he came closer, as if willing me to continue with the game. I was entranced, but had to get back to my work. Later that afternoon, I found him curled up in my ‘Inspiration” folder, snuggled in a plastic sleeve. I closed the cover gently, put out the light and left him to have a snooze. Later that evening, as I reflected on the encounter, I found myself looking forward to seeing him again. The next morning, I had scarcely opened the door, when he jumped off my diary, lying on the table and darted across the lid of my pastels. It was as if he was waiting for me and so the game began all over again…

For the next week or so, he was there every day, skidding across my table, rummaging through my sketchbooks, exploring my pencil case. Then one morning, I walked in and put a book on the table and was startled when he jumped into view, but I noticed he wasn’t his usual playful self and on closer observation, I discovered, to my absolute horror, that he had become trapped in a discarded piece of Sellotape. He was stuck fast and unable to move, so in my panic, I had no choice but to pick him up and attempt to pry the sticky tape from his squirming body. It was truly awful and my fear was that he might lose a toe or even a leg if I wasn’t careful. I have no idea how I managed the delicate operation, but with a combination of my effort and one quick flip of his squirming body, he was free, with only a minor loss of skin from the top of his head. I was quite shaken by the episode and was worried that he might disappear, but he seemed fine and kept me company for the rest of the day, while I continued with my drawing. 

The following week he was gone, but so had all the other lizards that usually hang out on the warm rocks outside my studio door. It was then that I connected the disappearance with the drop in temperatures, for as we moved towards winter, the days had become cool and the nights were really cold. I reassured myself that his absence wasn’t due to my careless use of sticky tape. Still, I wasn’t completely sure and resigned myself to being alone once more. But then I made an unexpected discovery, when sorting through my fabric wall hangings, I found my lizard fast asleep between the folds of cloth and the next morning, when I entered the room, there he was sunning himself on the veranda of his winter house. Just seeing him there, basking in the sun, lifted my spirits. I noticed that his wound, though still visible, seemed to have healed, which was a relief. As the sun moved overhead and disappeared from the studio, so too did my friend. I presume he went back into the fold. 

I have seen him once since then, basking in the sunshine on my studio mat, but I am hoping that with winter slipping behind us and the days becoming warmer, my battle scarred friend will keep me company in the studio once more. I have a feeling that this is not the end of our friendship and that once he has come out of hiding, this little guy has plans for us. I do know that for the past few years through lockdown and a pandemic, I’ve been in a creative drought, so I’m hoping, just hoping, that maybe I have been visited by a Muse.

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Categories: Uncategorized | 14 Comments

A Move To Kusane

The sounds of The Penguin Café Orchestra filter through the air. I am wrapped in a fleece blanket and outside, all is cold and grey. Above the music, I hear the steady raindrops falling on tin roof and through the window, I see the Karkloof valley shrouded in mist, with only a hint of the ridge beyond visible. The rain has been relentless over the last week and all my once plump, Eastern Cape succulents have gone ominously purple and black, like a toe that has lost its blood supply. 

Looking out over the Karkloof Valley, shrouded in mist

I have been here a little over 6 weeks now and am comfortably settled into my new rented home, a two bedroom flat on the ground floor of what is known as The Barn; a stylish green, steel structure, surrounded by rock gardens, filled with an abundance of shrubs, aloes and birds, all lovingly cared for by my brother, who lives on the upper floor. The view from our perch up here on the hill, is breathtakingly beautiful. Its sweeping expanse across picture perfect farmland, edged by the moody blue Karkloof mountains, expands both mind and spirit. 

The view from The Barn Photo: Anthony Stidolph

It is the perfect place to sit and rest a weary body, for it takes one’s mind away from the heaviness of the world and opens up a sense of possibility for a future not yet seen. It stimulates the creative spirit, which in my case has lain fairly dormant for the past two years, as I have struggled valiantly to keep my head above water in the face of the pandemic and a world in total chaos. I, like many people whose businesses were impacted by the pandemic, have worked really hard during this period of recalibration and my mind and body are tired, made all the more so by my recent decision to relocate from the comfortable and familiar surrounds of Grahamstown/Makhanda to new pastures in Kwa-Zulu Natal. 

Although I have been toying with the idea of relocating for the past few years, my tentative efforts to make it happen in 2019 had all but fizzled out, when news of the pandemic loomed large on the horizon. In fact, when the total lockdown became a reality, I was extremely grateful to still be ensconced in the familiar comfort of my much loved home and not locked up, with my possessions in boxes, somewhere on the road between two worlds. It was a relief to have had the decision for my future taken from me, and it was clear that I needed to stay where I was, so I used the time to develop my class material and take my courses online. I was perfectly content, making the most of every day, in the sunny Eastern Cape. In fact, so content was I to remain in my nest, that all thoughts of moving had faded to the distant recesses of my mind. It was somewhat of a surprise, therefore, when, late last year, on a drizzly November afternoon, I received a call that was to be one of those defining moments of my life. An estate agent, asking if she could bring someone to view my house? I hadn’t seen this coming and despite all my previous, theoretical talk of wanting to make a move, I certainly hadn’t been prepared for it actually happening. I was in a bit of a daze, but in a space of 24 hours, not only had my home been viewed, I had signed and accepted an offer. 

Fast forward three months and here I am, looking out into the mist and wondering how I got through it? Moving a home and art studio at my stage in life is a major undertaking;  a little like uprooting a well-established oak tree. It’s not something to take lightly, it requires special assistance and the ground in the new location needs to have been well prepared. Looking back, I realise that I have been sub-consciously preparing for this move for quite some time, with numerous visits to the farm, this beautiful piece of paradise, imagining myself living here, talking about living here and wondering how I could make it happen. Incredulously, in a space of three months, not only have I been uprooted, I have been successfully transported and transplanted into the fertile Midlands soil, and this soft soaking rain of reflection is exactly what is needed to settle and get my bearings.

Moving forward into the next chapter of my life Photo: Anthony Stidolph

It’s a big step to have left the security of my previous life, but I am glad I have done it and am hopeful that the foundation I have laid over the past twenty years in Grahamstown will stand me in good stead going forward and that before too long, I will see the new shoots of creativity emerging. Like any good painting, the canvas has been prepared and is now ready for some action. The empty space that lies before me is daunting, but a few outlines have been roughly sketched and in my imagination, I can see the way that things could develop. This is not to say that the picture that emerges will work out the way I envisage it, for as any artist knows, paintings can take on a life of their own and it’s our job to listen and follow. The plan, therefore, is not to force anything to happen, but allow the story to unfold.  

My side of the deal is to remain calm and steadfast, to listen for the inner promptings whilst being alert to potential opportunities. I know it will take courage to take new ideas forward, for not only am I in a completely new environment where very few people know me and I know just as few, I am up against the societal narrative that says I am of an age when I should be retiring. But, I also know that I am a free, creative spirit and can rewrite the script to become whatever I want it to be. From this perch on the hill, looking back, looking forward, I feel like my real work is only just beginning. Of course, I may be naive in this regard, but only time will tell.

There are definitely advantages to being young, particularly that one has energy and that one thinks life will go on forever, but the gift of age and maturity is that one has wisdom and experience on one’s side, aided by a deep and firm foundation from which to launch to the next level of the story. What this level should look like varies from person to person, but irrespective of how one chooses to live, this stage of life allows one to let go of all that is no longer relevant and work only with that which is essential. It is a time of distillation.

So, now I find myself in that liminal space where what was is gone and what is to come has not yet revealed itself. It is an exciting place to be, for in it, anything is possible.  

Categories: Background, My Studio, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 37 Comments

The Power of the Poem

Social media is a strange and wondrous thing that has completely transformed my life. Admittedly, it is a distraction that I view as both my enemy and my friend and I spend much of my time caught up in the contradiction, trying to extract myself from its greedy fingers, whilst at the same time being drawn to it as a moth to a flame. However, no matter how much I might hate its brain sucking, time wasting qualities, I do have to concede that there are numerous positives that have come out of my relationship with the Internet. One of the most important of these has been my exposure to the plight of the endangered rhinoceros and my subsequent meeting with poet Harry Owen which resulted in our collaborative effort to raise funds and awareness to help eradicate the scourge of rhino poaching in Africa.

Harry is a rare human being, a man with principles and a conscience, who not only cares deeply about the condition of our environment, but who is not afraid to speak out in its defence. A casual glance through his Facebook page will leave you in no doubt as to where his sentiments lie, and if you listen to his words in the short clip below, they will give you a better idea of the man I speak of.

 

 

In 2012 I received an email from Harry inviting me to submit a poem for possible inclusion in a book that he was putting together as a fund and awareness raising project for anti poaching. I sat with it for a while, caught between the feel-good sensation that his invitation brought up in me and the frustration of my poor poetry writing ability. I wanted to be a part of this project, but knew that my poetic skills just wouldn’t make the grade. I do, however, think that there is such a thing as visual poetry, and so when I bumped into Harry one sunny Saturday morning, standing by the artisan bread counter of our local Grahamstown morning market, I heard myself offering to illustrate his book. Until that moment I hadn’t actually articulated this idea, even to myself. It kind of just popped out, like the best ideas usually do, and as I drove home ten minutes later, I realised that I had just made a commitment from which there was no return. But, there was no need to return, for it was one of the most enjoyable projects that I have ever worked on, and it was with great joy that For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology was launched to much acclaim in 2013.

for-rhino-front

As you have heard in the interview above, it was his meeting with the legendary Dr. William Fowlds that sparked Harry’s idea for the project, and since then the anthology has traveled far and wide, spreading its message and adding to the coffers of the Chipembere Rhino Foundation. Countless people have read and listened to the moving words of the contributing poets who come from all parts of the world. One only needs to listen to Harry Owen as he reads his poem Eyona Indala, to get a sense of the depth of passion that this project brought out in the poets:

 

 

There have been many favourable reviews, and most recently, poems from the anthology were beautifully read by Dennis Morton on KUSP’s Weekly Poetry Show in the USA. Do yourself a favour and listen in to the show in its entirety, for you cannot fail to be moved.

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So, I return to our new technology and say that if, like me, you have been bombarded with horrific Facebook images of bleeding and dying rhino and feel helpless and overwhelmed by the enormity of the rhino poaching problem, take heart, for there is something you can do, whether it be signing petitions, donating funds, writing poems or simply clicking a ‘Share’ button. Or, better still, if you want something more tangible, remember that there are copies of the anthology available from The Poet’s Printery and Christmas is just around the corner! All proceeds from the sale of the book will go into the Chipembere Rhino Foundation fund.

As another dimension to the project, I have limited edition, signed and packaged prints available of each of the drawings that appear in the anthology. The cost of these is R250.00 per print, plus postage, and may be obtained by contacting me. There is also a range of greeting cards of these images, so to see the full collection, please visit my website.

For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology of Poetry

A drawing from ‘For Rhino in a Shrinking World: An International Anthology’

In conclusion, I leave you with a quote from the foreword of this book, written by Dr.Ian Player and Andrew Muir, who heads up The Wilderness Foundation:

“What we need in the world today is to hear within us the sounds of the earth crying” (Taken from a Zen poem)

“Rhino have a particularly plaintive cry, which once heard is never forgotten. The screams of agony from rhino that have had their horns chopped off while still alive should reach out into the hearts of all of us. We believe that it is only through a GLOBAL campaign and POLITICAL will that we can save this remnant of the dinosaur age – the rhino.

The heritage of a species, the rhino, and the environment we share with it, symbolises so much of what the Wilderness Foundation  is driven to take care of. It is our hope that what lies within this anthology will reveal enough to inspire everyone to respond the “the sounds of the earth crying”.

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Harry and Sally

Finally, I take this opportunity, through this miraculous platform of social media, to wish you and all the remaining rhino a blessed, safe and peaceful Christmas.

Categories: Drawing, Projects, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Dancing in Limpopo

One of the things that excites me most when traveling through Africa, is having an opportunity to watch traditional African dance. I am enthralled by the expressive nature of the dance, the uninhibited passion, colour and movement, which for an artist of any genre, provides heaps of inspiration.

So we are still on our travels through Limpopo and Petra, having been the cultural officer of Limpopo for many years, is the perfect person to travel with, as she knows so many good dance groups and is always able to introduce me to dance that I have never seen before. This province has a rich cultural heritage, so is a particularly good area to find amazing dancers with beautiful vibrant costume. On my last visit in 2009 I saw great examples of Tsonga dance, images of which are still clearly etched in my mind.

A swirl of fabric during a traditional Tsonga dance

A swirl of fabric during a traditional Tsonga dance

A Tsonga healer dances up a storm

A Tsonga healer dancing in a village near Tzaneen

This trip, Petra has arranged for us to visit a dance group in the village of  Mamaila, home of kgošhi (chief) Rhapahlelo. She does not know much about them, but was very impressed with their costumes when she saw them at a cultural festival some months ago, and has decided that this would be a good time to find out more. The leader of the group, Sarah Machete, is here to meet us and leads us to the local school where her group are all assembled.

Sarah Machete, a teacher and member of the dance group

Sarah Machete, a teacher and member of the dance group

We are introduced to the group of women, seated in colourful array upon the school chairs and are told that we are now in the company of the Kopanang Fighters! They are VaBirwa wa Raphahlelo, a Northern Sotho group, closely related to the Lobedu of the rain queen Modjadji fame.

I smile at the name they have given themselves, but looking at this group of fiercely proud Northern Sotho women, it certainly seems to fit. I sense that I am amongst empowered African women, who have identified a dream and are following it. The ladies are eager to share their story and Sarah recalls how it all began.

To begin with just a few women in the village got together to practice their traditional dance. They had no costumes and really just danced for recreation. Sarah, who is a teacher, used to see the group on her way to and from school. They encouraged her to join them, but Sarah says that she resisted, thinking “no, I am a teacher, I cannot do this dancing; this is for the illiterate women.” She also believed that she was too old and that her legs were too sore. However, she was persuaded, joined the group and found that the exercise was the best thing for her. Then they heard about competitions that were being held around the country and were encouraged to take part. Their first attempt failed, due to them not having proper shoes, so they went to a local businessman and performed in front of his shop to draw customers and he in turn bought takkies for the whole group. They took part in several more competitions, and though they didn’t win any prizes, they looked at those who were winning and made the necessary adjustments to their performance and dress.

The group began to grow as more women wanted to be a part of this positive and empowering initiative. Their costumes evolved from one show to the next and soon became the colourful uniform that it is to today. Despite the earlier disappointments, the women never gave up and after a particularly successful event at the Meropa Casino  in Polokwane, were soon winning all the prizes. Since then they have traveled far and wide and have performed at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg, the State Theatre in Pretoria, at Parliament and even Robben Island. They have brought out a CD of their songs and dances and frequently receive requests to perform at important events. I am impressed by the group’s perseverance and determination to succeed and I now completely understand the significance of their name. These women have every reason to feel proud.

Their outfits are a colourful blend of Tsonga and Northern Sotho traditions, given a modern twist.

Click on the images below to get a feel of how feisty these ladies are!

It’s been a fun, interesting and inspiring morning and to crown it all before we leave, both Petra and I are presented with beautiful beaded head bands. I treasure my gift and will use it to remind me never to give up on my dreams.

The end of a happy morning, Petra and I are presented with beaded gifts

The end of a happy morning, Petra and I are presented with beaded gifts

Categories: Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Creative Hand Embroidery Workshop

In anticipation of an exciting new series of Creative Sewing workshops that I have planned for next year, I will be holding a beginner’s Basic Hand Embroidery Workshop this coming Saturday 24th November.

With just three days to go until the big event, I thought I would give you a glimpse into the studio to see what’s going on.

It’s guaranteed to be fun, relaxing day of “Me” time, so if anyone out there is still interested in joining us, please contact me, as I might just be able to squeeze you in!

Make sure to watch my Pinboard for lots of pics next week, when I bring you a post on all the workshop feedback!

Categories: Fibre Art, Uncategorized, Workshops | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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