I am about to lead you into the enchanting world of The Strydom Gallery’s 45th Summer Exhibition. The name Strydom is synonymous with top quality SA art, and has been since 1968 when the Gallery was started by art connoisseur Matthys Strydom. Wow, Gaynor must really be clued up on art, you may be thinking. Wrong. Very big wrong. My knowledge of art is unbelievably limited. So on walking into the Strydom Gallery I was introduced to Dr Fred Scott, the CEO of Stephan Welz & Co the renowned art auctioneers. They have an association with the Strydom Gallery and he told me he would love to show me round. Dr Fred Scott is a Contemporary Art Specialist. An advisor, curator and expert with a discerning eye and an insistence on quality. Dr Scott has a great respect for the historical, he has a passion for contemporary and a determination to grow and develop the local art industry.
       I breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief at being placed in Dr Fred’s care. Everything would be alright. He would steer me expertly in and around the priceless treasures I was about to have “unveiled” before me! I then gave myself over to the various “worlds” I was introduced to in each of the six paintings that Dr Fred chose as his personal highlights of the 45th Summer Exhibition.
'Still Life" - Eben Van Der Merwe (1932- ) Oil on Board
‘Still Life” – Eben Van Der Merwe (1932- )
Oil on Board
     The first painting Dr. Fred chose was done in 1962 during the apartheid era. This artist, Eben Van Der Merwe, is still alive but he is classified as a South African Master. His paintings have been bought by a number of top museums who recognised his brilliance. Dr Fred remarked that he has a sensitive critical temperament. Apparently the intensity of Eben’s colour is a distinctive feature of his style.  It consists of mainly earthy greens, greys, blues and browns, rounded off with bright green and red splashes.  This is very characteristic of his work.
       I looked at: “Still Life”.  I didn’t know what it was a still life of! Dr. Fred tried to point out the jug and plate in the painting. I struggled to see them. But I don’t think that matters. I like the colours and the way they play off each other. They are pleasing and well combined and the way the shapes are placed against each other seem to slide and fit together perfectly. I find it a calming picture.
       Dr Fred looked at me with a twinkle in his eye. “Eben van der Merwe is still very affordable and would be a great future investment.”
       “Sold!” I quipped back.
       Seriously though, his art is really good and as Dr. Fred said: “The art lover should not shy away from acquiring an Eben Van Der Merwe for their collection.”
'Karoo Houses" - Pranas Domsaitis (1880-1965) Oil on Canvas
‘Karoo Houses” – Pranas Domsaitis (1880-1965)
Oil on Canvas
    We moved on to the next painting which was done by Pranas Domsaitis, “Karoo houses” it was called. I love the fact that although this artist was born in Lithuania he is now regarded as one of South Africa’s best! His wife became a lecturer in music at Cape Town University and it is this that brought him here. At the end of the 1930’s he was persecuted by the Nazi’s for his art work. He is one of the  Degenerative Artists.
       Dr Fred told me that he was an expressionistic painter and took art to the next level. At the time his innovation was not understood. Although a SA Master, there is actually a museum in his home town in Lithuania in his honour. I laughed – good on ya, Lithuania!
       I liked this painting of houses at dusk. I found myself gazing at them with interest. They weren’t clearly defined. Just suggestions of structures. That gave room for my imagination…..
"Caledon Street" - Gregoire Boonzaier (1909-2005) Oil on Canvas
“Caledon Street” – Gregoire Boonzaier (1909-2005)
Oil on Canvas
     We then considered an important painting of Caledon Street in District Six. This was done by Gregoire  Boonzaier. His father was a well known cartoonist in his time and Gregoire followed in his father’s footsteps with pastels, a paintbrush and paper. He became, in due course, a SA Master. In this painting he wanted to illustrate the human condition in District Six.
       Gregoire was a personal friend with Dr Fred’s family, indeed his father wrote a book on Gregoire. Fred laughed gently remembering a camping trip they had together when he was a boy.
       I really enjoy this painting. It is gentle on the eye. At the same time it catches your interest. A normal street in District 6.
"Stilts" - Fred Page (1908-1984) Oil on Board
“Stilts” – Fred Page (1908-1984)
Oil on Board
 We then studied on to one of my favourite paintings “Stilts” by Fred Page.
       I smiled at the fact that this is also one of Dr. Fred’s favourite artists! He said that Fred Page was an artist before his time. Apparently he shows as much thought and conscience as technique. Dr. Fred claims that there is an inherent honest in what he paints. He is a Surrealist, influenced by Salvador Dali.
       I love this painting because it tells a story. Why has the woman got peg-legs? The two heads in the wine glass… Is that a circus trick in rehearsal?….the Ringmaster….obviously a circus scene….The whole painting has a dream-like quality. I think this painting intrigues me because it has a dramatic allure.
       Up to this point we had been in the Masters section of the Summer Exhibition. We then moved to the next room which housed the Contemporary Art.
"Histologic archetype forms, Part 1" Sandile Zulu (1961- ) Mixed Media - Scorched Canvas
“Histologic archetype forms, Part 1”
Sandile Zulu (1961- )
Mixed Media – Scorched Canvas
     We stood before “Histologic archetype forms, Part 1”, by Sandile Zulu. Dr. Fred explained that the artists in the seventies found that it was impossible to improve on what had gone before. They had to come up with something different!  And so Conceptual Art was born! The idea or concept is the most important part of the work.
       Zulu was a black artist who studied art in a Swedish Mission in Rourkes Drift. His technique was excellent because the mission actually contracted a recognised Swedish artist to teach there.
       Zulu is perhaps the Vincent Van Goch of his peers. The media used in this painting/installation is scorched canvas and plastic. He works have been bought by the Smithsonian Art Museum in Washington D.C. and books have been published about him.
      I got the feeling one gets when one sees a man in a film suddenly begin tearing at his face and you realise he’s wearing a mask. For me this painting was masking something and I had to restrain myself from picking at “the mask” to see what was underneath!
"Untitled" - Samson Mnisi (1971- ) Oil on Canvas
“Untitled” – Samson Mnisi (1971- )
Oil on Canvas
    Next to this Contemporary was another. This was by the artist, Samson Mnisi and it was untitled.     Again it was a Conceptual work.This black artist was  influenced by indigenous art. His parents were both of Sangoma background. There are small marks on the canvas that echo the  cutting of the skin marks and wall “graffiti” found in prehistoric caves.
       I find this a disturbing piece. It makes me question what art is supposed to do? I find myself fascinated by this piece, trying to decipher what “the code” means. It would not be a restful piece to have around! But – is Art meant to be restful???
       We then moved into the area of the exhibition where the artist on consignment were displayed. I looked at so many different styles of work. I wondered what made an artist successful? Dr. Fred explained: “It is very difficult to be successful.
Technique is learnable. You must be good at:
colour balance
have a personal style
a sense of perspective
be able to draw well
show intelligence
but……even if you have learnt all of the above techniques that does not guarantee that you will be a successful artist. You have to have that added extra.YOU HAVE TO BE BORN AN ARTIST! With an artists creativity, you have to be able to capture life.”
       I wish that Dr Fred Scott was one of my closest friends! I want him to be always near me. He enables me to see things differently. He makes my eye keener! Art is in the eye of the beholder and Dr. Fred makes me a better beholder! I have found since being shown around by him that I have looked at paintings differently. Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder but what is interesting is that a person’s eye, her likes and dislikes can change straight away when one is exposed to such “jewels” of the craft. I was shown around the Gallery by Dr Fred and the various paintings were “unveiled” for me.
      Having been shown such masterly craftsmanship, other works seem to pale in comparison.
       Yes, definitely. Dr Fred as a friend…..!
The Strydom Gallery’s Summer Exhibition is now open at 79 Market Street, George until the end of January 2014.