It is the end of June in South Africa which, for this Eastern Cape boy, means Grahamstown Arts Festival. Yes the City of Saints plays host to an assortment of arts events for ten days. Some of the best shows and some pretty weird ones too will be available for thousands of arts fans to enjoy. I cannot wait!
This arts fest ranks with the best in the world. No surprise that many acts come from overseas to participate. Plus hear the accents of foreign tourists mixing in with the local patois. It is a sensory delight.
This year's fest is promising to deliver more satire from South Africa's rich supply of political madness. Although I suspect that reading the daily newspaper should be satire enough. Honourbale mention will go to Pieter Dirk Uys who will be appearing at the fest. He will premier his new play African Times.
I love the fringe where you take your chances from a vast assortment of shows on offer. All part of the experience of cramming in as much as you can in a short space of time. Adding to the fun is the weather which can be warm one day and bitterly cold the next. A nip of port in the backpack is a essential for these emergencies.
For the magpie in you there is the village market. Filled with stalls in giant tents that must resemble souks in the middle east. The expected clothing stalls plus the funky stuff vie for attention. Some amazing new wonder products will usually be available for purchase too.
Of course there is fine art for all tastes. Displayed on pavements or in formal gallery settings you will find something to lighten the soul. The pocket too I imagine.
Yes it is a unique event and we are fortunate to have it. If you have never experienced the fest then make a note for the bucket list. You only need a few days - three at least - of full steam fun that will give you a lifetime of memories.
Visit the official festival website here to download the program.
Plein air painting has come a long way. From its beginnings in the Barbizon school of painters with artists like Millet to theimpressionists led by Claude Monet. The outdoors was nature in its purest form. What more did an artist need than to face nature and learn from it directly. Even Van Gogh, although not an impressionist, sought truth from nature.
Post world wars however plein air painting was overshadowed by conceptual art. The horrors of modern times were better captured in abstraction and other two dimensional art forms that rejected nature. It seemed that for art to be any good it had to be cynical and at times depressing. Where had the direct communion between artist and nature gone to?
Fortunately outdoor painting had never died out. The allure of beauty in nature together with its ever changing moods made outdoor painting irresistable to many artists. In recent years we have seen an upsurge in outdoor painting among all age groups. Modern impressionist painting in its many variations still attract serious collectors. Plus the accessibility of the work to most people is an advantage to artists.
In the United States, for example, outdoor painting events have become common place. Towns use these events for tourist opportunities. Artists get to learn from each other and the pursuit is a healthy one too. Simply Google plein air events 2015 and see the number results exceed a million hits!
The beautiful thing is that outdoor painting has been accepted by young and old. There are some extreme painters too. These intrepid artists take on extreme weather and terrain to capture nature in its majesty. See a video below for inspiration.
Personally I can relate to this growth. Outdoor painting transformed my outlook on art. It gave me new energy to paint in nature itself. It was an immediate bond. There are many challenges to overcome, but the main one is a mental switch. Painting is so personal that we shy away from exposing ourselves to public scrutiny. In reality it is possible to paint outdoors without public attention. In truth most people do not care about what you re doing. Those that do could become friends or collectors. What is not to like!
To promote outdoor painting, in my own humble way, I am working on a plein air course that will be launched on Udemy.com soon. As a primer for that I have prepared a free plein air guide that you can download in pdf form. Please share with other artists too.
Plus feel free to contact me about your plein air painting experiences or leave a comment below that may inspire others too.
Vincent Van Gogh - perhaps the world's most famous artist. The difference in Van Gogh's fame during his lifetime compared to that after his death could not be more stark. It is no wonder that the cliche of the starving artist gained so much traction in the twentieth century. Vincent Van Gogh fitted the description perfectly. Despite Vincent's lack of following and business failure he was consumed with the idea of forming an artist's commune in the south of France.
When Van Gogh moved from Paris to Arles in 1888 it must looked like a rash decision. Arles was a provincial town far removed from the art hub in Paris. It was in Arles that Vincent created many of his most famous paintings. It was also where he wanted to create an art hub of his own.
Van Gogh was also fascinated with Japanese art. Japanese artists had a tradition of cooperation. They often exchanged paintings with each other as a mark of respect. Van Gogh admired this practice and tried to follow the idea with fellow artists, but with little success. Vincent was simply not very popular with his contemporaries. It is odd that Van Gogh would persist in trying to win favour with other artists. This points to his insecurity and loneliness. These deep seated conditions existed from childhood.
It was at the so called yellow house in Arles that Vincent hoped other artists would visit and stay with him. Vincent painted the house and made it comfortable in anticipation.
I would be truly satisfied to be nothing more than a pathfinder for future painters who will work in the south
Van Gogh's painting, The Yellow House, shows his residence in Arles. The house is in the centre of the painting with the dark windows and green shutters. It glows in golden yellows against the dark blue sky. Van Gogh was a master of complimentary colour painting. This bright painting was designed to be a glowing beacon to attract fellow painters to join him. Even the train entering the town encourages this idea.
Another famous painting, Vincent's Bedroom at Arles, showed the peaceful and inviting bedroom on the first floor of the yellow house. A sanctuary from the heat outside and also the decadence of Paris. Despite Vincent's attempts there were no takers, until Paul Gauguin agreed. However Gauguin was simply trying to establish himself with Van Gogh's art dealing brother. The relationship was doomed from the start.
The Yellow House by Vincent Van Gogh