Artists on the slopes of Stellenbosch mountains

 The second in a series of two

I was curious as well about the work of Fiona, Vivian’s wife.  Her name was not entirely unknown to me.  In the lounge I saw a large and striking photograph of a young woman, but closer scrutiny revealed that it was in fact a painted portrait.  The closer I looked the more the details sprang at me, the more remarkable it became.  She showed me the hair on the right side of the face — she had used sandpaper to achieve the desired texture.  I was bowled over.


Fiona is a lovely, windswept being and I asked her about photo-realism.  No, she said, what I do is merely realistic.  I know of people who would argue.  I am not even sure that if you get an accurate classification of what she does, whether it would enhance your appreciation.  She gets down to it, without labels.

Robert Charles Hunting 2001

Martin Sholto Hunting 2009

On her app, she showed me work that she had done — portraits of young people and adults.  One image after the other left me staring.  I have since discovered that Fiona is known as “The Deadly Eye”.  In one portrait, she zoomed in to the pores on the skin of the male subject.  How one does this with paint and a brush will remain a mystery to me and, I suspect, many others.

A close-up of a portrait

Fiona is also a sculptor, but after these paintings that will be a subject for another day.  There can be no question:  it won’t surprise me if Fiona has the reputation of being the best contemporary portrait painter in the country, with a substantial following overseas.

Thank you, Fiona.



Bridgewater, Somerset West

December, 2019


Source and images

Fiona Metcalfe, Portrait Painting

My photograph


With gratitude to Fiona Metcalfe and to Cia Brand who made this meeting possible. 



Artists on the slopes of Stellenbosch mountains

The first in a series of two

A privilege, a pleasure, a revelation — whatever — to meet two exceptional artists on one day …  and that on the slopes of the Stellenbosch mountains in the clear silence of a December morning.

Vivian and I sat in his studio and jogged through the last two hundred years of art history.  It was interesting to me that he, with compendium knowledge, felt that often some abstraction, a characteristic of the modern era, was these days of a matter of the emperor’s new clothes — this emperor is in reality naked; there is talk about nothing.

With us, like a third person, there was an easel with a canvas on it.  It was the image of a grey ceramic pot on an empty table with a crumpled tissue (?) in the foreground.  Describing it like this makes it sound far less striking than it was.

It felt as if the pot was looming from the grey texture of the unconscious … an image of sharp definition, contained and isolated.  And the tissue … crumpled, pale and lost in a world that seemed to be burgeoning.  I don’t feel inclined to classify work like this.  The more I thought about it, the more the image liberated me to run barefoot through my enjoyment of it.

The ceramic pot model

Vivian spoke about the image that he had been at for two years.  He described how light falls on the “model” through the windows —  a sunny day casts a completely different mood on the dominant grey of the image;  an overcast day makes the mood inward.  He joked that he was becoming a weatherman.

Portrait of Vivian painted by Fiona

There was other work in the studio, but I must say that I was engrossed in the ceramic pot.

There are few things as exciting as listening to an artist talking about the process of his work.  The final product, as a result, seems to have a kind of aura.   In this particular case, the experience was exceptional.

With gratitude, Vivian.


Bridgewater, Somerset West

December, 2019


My photographs

With gratitude to Vivian van der Merwe as well to Cia Brand who make this meeting possible.


A forerunner for the ceramic pot


Picasso  –  a few runaway thoughts

I remember from my earliest years that if people wanted to knock “modern art” the name Picasso would soon pop up.  I sometimes still hear such sentiments, but let me say, they are made with greater hesitation.  I even discovered a short street in Panorama where I used to live named after the man.  I play my game:  when people speak of the “rubbish” that Picasso has “dished up”, I enquire What part of his 75-year career are you referring to?  It is well nigh impossible for single statement to cover such a complex oeuvre.  Then I’m less popular.

Here is a personal favourite, a painting in his “Blue” Period where images are more or less realistic (a tricky word).

Then he breaks away with Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907, a break-away that had been in the offing for at least a decade.  I think there is no painting in art history that breaks so sharply with tradition as does this one, heralding the modern era … the use of African masks to suggest the nightmare of his experience (?) in the house of the ladies.

Question is, why did modernism break so strongly with the past?  For me the answer has something to do with the Restless Greek in Western culture that seeks rebirth constantly.

Portrait of Vollard

Cubism was an answer to photography that was rapidly flooding the modern world.  In cubism we see the suggestion of an inner structure, an image to meditate on rather than one that captures an appearance.  Picasso and Brague were foremost in this.

For those who simplify what Picasso did, he explored one style after the other, from photo-realism …

Le Bal du compte d’Orgel 1924

… to the re-creation of physical form.

Guernica 1937 (detail)

In these disturbing images, the protest against the horrendous bombing of the city of Geurnica at the onset of the Spanish Civil War, we see the artist as a warrior, something that had already appeared in Goya’s work.  An anecdote:  this painting was spirited off to the USA for protection and in the years of the Second World War a pro-German official asked Picasso, “Did you do that?” to which Picasso, with accustomary sharpness, replied “No, you did.”

Picasso was not without humour and we see him playing.  He makes us see differently.  He teaches us to look past appearances.  He is the artist with the most confidence.  The range of his creative exploration remains bewildering.

L’Après-midi d’un faune 1961


An image of Jacqueline, his lover, that melds realism and abstraction.  At this stage of his long and creative life one senses his fatigue and experimenting with pottery, he plays with simpler, even childlike, images.  One critic observed sadly that by the time his last years came in the 1970s his work had become caricatures of his art.

Judge Picasso, if you will, from a thorough knowledge of the complexity of his work.  Or just marvel and enjoy.


Bridgewater, Somerset West

December, 2019



Picasso. Le Figaro. 2014

Self-portrait 1901


Guillermo Portabales, song-writer, performer

The birthdate of this Cuban singer seems to be more certain than his date of death.  Debate about it has been strong.  The two dates are 1911 and 1970.  He dedicated himself to songwriting from the earliest years and continued after he had left Cuba for Puerto Rico in 1953.  He was a guitarist of note.

From his early career he sang in the various styles of traditional local music, soon discovering that guajira was most popular.  The word refers to the peasant and his world, the joys, the sorrows.  In view of this I find it strange that Portabales was considered “an enemy of the state” after the 1959 revolution which had had pretensions to socialism.  By this time he had, of course, toured the Americas extensively and was greatly loved.

Here and there we find endearing love songs.  His lyrics also celebrate the landscape of Cuba as well as that of Puerto Rico.

The murmuring stream

Parted by the moon

When the silver rays

Go to its depths

  • From El Arroyo que murmura

Try, if you will, to stand still when you hear a Portabales song in full swing, especially the title song Le Carratera.



Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2019



Wikipedia Guillermo Portabales

Sleeve notes on “Le Carratera”



From the sleeve “Le Carratera”

The Studio of the Midi

From the grey, overcast world of northern Europe the modernists came in their numbers with their colour revolution.  For them it was the glow of the southern sun which they sought.  And they spoke about it.  Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother:  The only heathen is the one who does not believe in this sun.  And Matisse:  When I grasp that, each morning, I wonder at this light, I cannot believe my good fortune. And Keats: Oh, for a beaker full of the warm South…

Van Gogh  La Meridienne 1889-1890


Matisse  Luxe, calme et volupte 1904

Here is Matisse with his shortlived foray into pointilism.

Paul Signac  Femmes au puits 1892

Signac achieved much in the coastal town of St Tropez and his pointilism is particularly fine work.

Henri-Charles Manguin Jeanne à l’ombrelle, Cavaliere 1906

It is glowing, the light, for Manguin and for his model with her umbrella.

Henri-Edmund Cross  Côte provençale, le Four des Maures

It is a heartier pointilism, but for Cross the glimmer comes through.

Georges Braque  La viaduc à L’Estaque 1907

It is early in his career, but we can see Braque’s cubism emerging.

Pierre Bonnard L’Atelier au mimosa  1939

It was my privilege to stand in the warm glow of this painting.  Bonnard established himself in Le Cannet, a suburb of Cannes and during the Second World War he painted this work.


Will v d Walt

Bridgewater, Somerset West

December, 2019


Source and images

Le Grand Atelier du Midi.  Telérama.


Raoul Dufy L’Aperitif 1908

 Oh, for a beaker full of the warm South…”








Survivor Day 2013 2017

In the reception area at the Clinic there are two works created by cancer survivors.


The Tree was organised and painted by Herman Groenewald who created spaces for the survivors to comment and leave their names.

The second is a communal mosaic done under the planning of Riana Breebaard (“Drawn to Life”) who organised the plaster of paris setting for each of the mosaics.  There are 74 individual mosaics done with a wide range of colours.

It is a moving experience to view each one and ponder what their message was, to themselves and to others.


Bridgewater, Somerset West

November, 2019



With thanks to the staff at Cancercare, Arun Place, Vergelegen Clinic, Somerset West.

My photographs


Architecture – The National Cultural History Museum, Seoul

From 1945 the South Koreans, after 35 years of Japanese colonialism, sought to re-establish their identity by means of their patrimony.  The result has been the mushrooming of museums in Seoul.  From the Museum of the history of Seoul to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where I saw an exhibition of 30 Van Gogh originals, the range is wide.  The pinnacle of this process has been the National Cultural History Museum in Yangson, Seoul, which Koreans proudly regard as the centre point of their culture.  The building itself was a revelation to me.

I researched but could not find the name of the architect(s) of this building.  What I did find was that it was a Korean designer who was strongly influenced by Renaissance architecture, especially too, the principles of Vitruvius who saw the line and the circle as the basics of design.  (Leonardo de Vinci applied this to the human body with his famed drawing of the Vitruvian Man.)

The contrast between this building and the curl roof tradition of the East is most striking.  Here is the Entrance which links the two sections of the Museum:  one part for the cultural artefacts, and the other, a theatre.

The glass cladding of this space is impressive.  The rounded shape is probably the only round part of the entire building!

The sky-light, as always, brings light down to the beige-grey of the interior.

Here we see a fine arched line which almost disappears in the strak lines of the various parts of the Museum.

I came on this three-storey pagoda, the greatest architectural contrast in the building.

This Museum is the starkest statement of modernism that I have yet seen.  Elsewhere in Seoul, there are many more playful post-modern designs.  This building though remains remarkable, together with its many cultural treasures.  It was opened in 2005.

© Will van der Walt

Les Semboules, Antibes

December, 2019


My photographs

A theatre post for Hamlet in the theatre section of the Museum.



 Street lights in the gradens of the Museum 




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