I have spoken about Aitch being an art connoisseur before, here and here. I have also referred to the possibility that I might have philistinian tendencies; or plebeian judgement.
Some months after she died in July 2011 I found a parcel very well wrapped up and secure; cardboard, brown paper, parcel tape and well bubble-wrapped inside.
Inside were two beautifully framed botanical prints by an artist I had never heard of – Ha! of course I hadn’t. But Aitch had! . . and an invoice.
I gasped: HOW MUCH?!!
Just two and a half months before she died she was still investing in things she considered were beautiful; and would go far and grow. Given time.
Trying to sell them not so easy. So far I’ve had an offer of R1000; no reply from the gallery she bought them at; another art gallery said “try an auction house.” I’m gonna keep them for when I get a new place one day. Then I’ll hang them up and ignore them again.
More on Sibonelo Chiliza here and here and here and pictures of a few of his works here.
You have to marvel. Awesome wonder and all that. Be gobsmacked. Cameras were invented around 1826 and the first personal cameras were sold to the general public around 1900 when Kodak Brownies cost $1.
– 1000memories blog tells us this – By 1930 about a billion photos were being taken a year By 1960 about 3 billion photos a year By 1970 10 billion By 1980 25 billion By 1990 57 billion By 2000 86 billion
And then we decide ‘Fuckit let’s REALLY start taking us some pictures!’ – let’s all carry a camera around all the time. And even if there’s nothing to photograph, let’s just take a picture of ourselves. That way we’ll ALWAYS have a subject. Brilliant, aren’t we?
So today we’re taking about 380 billion photos a year AND we’re keeping them. Many early photos got lost, nowadays most don’t! Not even the ones where you cut off Aunt Enid’s head. Nor the close-up of that sandwich you ate. Holy guacamole!
My kids add to this treasure trove of priceless art:
Dad:“Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.
(This was on the slopes of Platberg, the mountain that overshadows Harrismith Free State).
“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in the town). I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”
So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s 98yr-old memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad.
I just knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking, and at Love Camping I found:
A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.
This post was seen by old Westvillains Tony and Elesa Willies in Canada, who wrote in the comments. Elesa sent a pic of her and her folks taken 43 years ago in the same ‘shrubs beside a cascading stream’ spot above Mahai campsite in RNNP! Wow! That beats even my recall of the scene!
And Tony sent a Victor Simmonds painting called ‘Harrismith’ (wish I knew where this was done – maybe near Sunnymede on the banks of the Wilge river, looking away from the river towards Platberg?):
I asked Dad if he could remember more. Just these (mainly sad) memories: – He was a lovely little man – small, frail even; I don’t think he ate much – he drank too much; – Ruth Wright probly gave him some grub, she was a lovely woman (he stayed in a cottage on their plot); – His pub was the Grand National in Warden street – quite a walk from the plot next door to us. He never had a car, nor even a bicycle; – I wish I had asked him to give you kids drawing or sketching lessons – I could have paid him a bit. He never had any money; – I fear he probably died penniless and got a paupers burial; (thankfully this was probably overly pessimistic as it turned out, as Victor was still painting some twenty years later, as shown by Helen who commissioned a painting of the Amphitheatre from him in 1980, just before she emigrated to Australia – see her comment).
Two more from the “early student paintings” he gave Dad. Both are marked ‘Harrismith ca.1946’ – but by who? Not by Victor himself.
Another wonderful Eastern Free State and Drakensberg artist found a post I wrote on Little Switzerland – a special place in his and his family’s lives. Enjoy Alan Kennedy‘s paintings here.
. . raised a whole lot of money for Udobo School. Udobo is a pre-school in Montclair for the special kids of Montclair. Udobo – the name is isiZulu for fishhook – needs to raise funds to keep going and Aitch’s unused ceramics helped. Anne Snyders of Udobo set her kids to painting them, varnished them, and then auctioned them off to those wonderful suckers called parents, who each bid way more than the intrinsic worth cos THEIR kids painted it! Everybody wins!
In the Southlands Sun: UDOBO Pre-Primary School hosts an art exhibition and auction at the major hall of the Montclair Methodist Church on Saturday, 24 November from 11am to noon.
They sold tickets for R50 which included a meal and light entertainment. The children’s artwork was on sale, and the pottery pieces plus tablecloths decorated by the children were auctioned.
Hey! and they gave me a free plate, painted by Eli! Look how cheerful a kid can make a plain white plate!
Recently I took another load of Aitch stuff – books, picture frames n stuff, which occasioned this letter above. Hopefully they can put it to work for them too.
Udobo’s main source of funds is from Action Udobo in the UK. Their website has pics from Udobo just down the road from me in Montclair.
I think my favourite Aitch Art piece hanging on our walls was the Pear Tree ceramic. I broke it.
Oh well, we’re going to buy . .
One box of wine
Two packs of beer
Three sticks of glue
Seven . . . . dancing . . . . girls
and hold a –
Party-y in a Pear Tree
And we’ll fix it – yep. Louis is going to be the GluMeister, I’ll keep it lubricated, and Petrea will bring a semblance of order.
Update: A preliminary Cocktails and Curry evening has been held in which a Mak Martini was drank; also a cream vodka with mint sprig; and a medicinal flu jab consisting of one part gin one part vodka one part vermouth and freshly squoze lemon and orange, garnished with a slice of lemon and topped up with Little Miss Muffet’s whey orange juice from Tropika. Oh yes, and some practice glueing was done by the Glumeister.
Who also made the curry, fresh from New Delhi, the gurugram district. It was delicious, spicy, tasty, filling, warming on a chilly evening. Jess supplied dessert: Baked cheesecake, dark chocolate, double-thick cream; Then strong filter coffee in zebra hide cups.
I wrote about Aitch’s eye for and taste in art here when she spotted a Willie Bester in Cape Town in 1993 and bought it over my “are you sure?” ignorance.
Around about the same time we met Ingrid Weiersbye on Barry & Lyn Porter’s game farm at Hella Hella and Aitch loved her work and quietly bought two of her paintings, later presenting them to me for my birthday. Ingrid is married to Barry’s brother Roger, ecologist with KZN Wildlife.
Well, sure as anything, Ingrid just got more and more famous and I’m sure whatever Aitch paid, the paintings are worth way more now. This one above is on offer for over R20 000. And I think ours are better!
More about Ingrid Weiersbye:
Born in England, raised in Zimbabwe, Weiersbye has held eight solo exhibitions. Beside these she has printed five limited edition print releases, has participated in numerous art and environmental projects and her work has been published in several books. She has been well supported by corporate and private collectors, particularly in the UK, Germany and South Africa.
Furthermore: • She has exhibited work for seven consecutive years at the Society of Wildlife Artists’ annual exhibition in London. • She has exhibited at the British Birdwatching Show for three years at which she won the ‘best stand’ award in 1995 in the art category for her bird paintings. • She was invited by the Tron and Swann Gallery in London to participate in several major art exhibition from 1992 to 1996 including ‘Parrots of the World’, ‘Wildfowl and Waterfowl’ as well as the British Game Fair.
Additionally she exhibits on most major South African wildlife exhibitions of international wildlife art held regularly at the Everard Reade Gallery in Johannesburg.
Robert’s 7th edition. Handbook of Birds of Southern Africa. 2005…main contributing artist
Roberts Bird Guide – Kruger National Park. 2006…main contributing artist
Roberts Bird Field-guide. 2007
Roberts Geographic Variation of Southern African Birds. 2012…co-author and sole illustrator
Birds of Botswana Field-guide, Princeton University Press. 2016…co-author and sole illustrator
Roberts Comprehensive Field-guide to Southern African Birds. 2016…co-author and main illustrator
Aitch loved Syd Sellars. They got on like a house on fire. She was doing marketing for the De Marigny & Lello group of optometrists in Durban, Ballito, Stanger, Scottburgh, etc and Syd did all her printing. They would put their creative heads together and design new logos, letterheads and adverts.
Years later I saw Syd again. He was shocked to hear of Trish’s passing. He would SO have liked to have shown her this:
After 30 years in the corporate world Syd is now doing what he loves best: Teaching children fine art – and it’s rewarding him mentally and financially! I LOVE success stories!
He also exhibits and sells his own art, while his wife Laura helps run the business, being the organiser for Syd the creative.
I’m rich. I have an early Willie Bester, complete with crushed Mainstay Cane spirits bottle top and torn-off piece of an Omo packet, framed in cheap SA pine, painted with pink primer.
Read this from Smithsonian Libraries and weep:
Contemporary African art from the Jean Pigozzi collection / foreword by Mark Gibourne; [day of sale, June 24, 1999]. London: Sotheby’s, 1999. 132pp., 57 lots. illus. (color).
The 1999 Sotheby’s auction of works from the Jean Pigozzi collection was the first major sale of modern African art by a top auction house.
Remarkably, all the works sold. Most fetched more than the estimated prices. Realized prices ranged from £2,000 to £7,000. The top price was a Willie Bester mixed media work going for £10,000 (pre-sale estimate, £4,000-£6,000). Not bad. The sale was billed as a benefit for Unicef and to establish the Jean Pigozzi Prize for Contemporary African Art.
Confession: When Aitch bought it in Kaapstad one early holiday while we were rich and child-free, I raised my eyebrows and thought Hmmm . . .
~~~oo0oo~~~ Sent: Thursday, 17 November 2016 Subject: Willie Bester art
Aitch’s Willie Bester artwork is looking even better – again. One was sold at an auction of David Bowie’s African art collection. Admittedly there’s a “David Bowie factor” which one art dealer reckoned added 50% to the prices.
Willie Bester’s “What Happened in the Western Cape?” fetched R358,000.
She’d have done this if she was still around, so here goes:
“Remember how you said ‘Are you mad?’ when I bought it in Cape Town, Koos?!”
**mumble** Well, I didn't say 'mad'. I'm sure I said "Are you sure?" **mumble**
It was January 1993 and Aitch paid R2660 on budget over six months on her credit card. She pinned the slip to the back of the painting. What an investment! Note how they still used the old shook-shook credit card machine back then.
More about Willie:
Born in Montagu, Western Cape in 1956. He began painting murals as a child, and it was also then that he first developed an interest in recycling industrial and waste materials. As an adult, Bester worked for 15 years as a dental technician’s assistant before rekindling his love for art. His first solo exhibition, held in Cavendish Square in 1982, was mounted without the assistance of a gallerist. Bester went on to study part-time at the Community Art Centre in Cape Town where he was exposed to the idea of art as a political tool.
Following this encounter he had a meteoric rise to fame in the early 1990s, exhibiting at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg before taking part in exhibitions in Dakar, Senegal, and in numerous centres in Europe, including Africa Remix, which was mounted at the Hayward Gallery in London in 2005 before travelling to the Pompidou Centre in Paris and thereafter to Johannesburg.
Bester has received numerous prestigious awards including South Africa’s Order of Ikhamangu (Silver). Most recently, Bester exhibited at the Changchun Sculpture Symposium in China where he was voted the most popular artist and honoured for his innovative use of materials.
Bester’s mixed media works have frequently included passages of painting that have contained strongly naturalistic elements. Continuity is also evident in Bester’s sustained preoccupation with apartheid’s legacy, and the empathy and dignity with which he represents the dispossessed.
Training – 1986: Community Arts Project, Cape Town.
1982–2003: Eleven solo Exhibitions in South Africa.
1988–2001: Five solo exhibitions abroad – Dakar, Senegal; Trento, Rome and Turin, Italy; and Brussels, Belgium. 1989–2004: Participation in approximately thirty group exhibitions in South Africa.
1991–2005: Participation in approximately forty-six international Exhibitions in thirty-five cities and towns in the UK, Italy, The Netherlands, France, Switzerland, USA, Cuba, Germany, Canary Islands, Spain, Austria, Senegal, Brazil, India, Malaysia, and Ireland. This includes several biennales and high profile exhibitions.
Iziko SA National Gallery, Cape Town; Johannesburg Art Gallery; Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, Port Elizabeth; Durban Art Gallery; Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg; Pretoria Art Museum; University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg; University of the Western Cape, Bellville; University of South Africa Art Gallery, Pretoria; Department of National Education, Pretoria; Department of Foreign Affairs, Pretoria; South African Broadcasting Corporation, Cape Town and Johannesburg; Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town; Contemporary African Art Collection, Paris; Smithsonian Institute, Washington DC.
1991: Merit Prize, Cape Triennial.
1992: Prix De L’Aigle, 4th Grand Prix International D’Arts Plastiques de la Vlille de Nice, France.
2003: Honorary medal for promotion of Fine Arts: Suid Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns.
2004: Order of the Disa, Members Class, Government of the Republic of South Africa.