I had the good fortune to be commissioned to paint seven huge canvasses for a hotel restaurant in Cape Town. I started working on the first drafts at the end of September 2013 and currently I am just over halfway with the project. I have started this new blog only recently, so I will make a lengthy first post with lots of photos just to catch up with the progress and from there onwards I will attempt to cover the second half of the process as it unfolds. Hopefully I will also reach the end, of this project.
The brief basically entails a panorama of the Cape Peninsula as seen from a point roughly above the hotel’s location. Guests/viewers of the works will see and enjoy beautiful aspects of the peninsula, but will also be subtly reminded or informed of other layers of our reality. Here surrealism steps in as medium to lend the paintings an alternative voice.
The hotel is located in Bantry Bay, so the top of Lion’s Head turned out to be the best POV for the panorama. Tourists are familiar with the views and also, I could actually get there to take some photos. Hovering above the hotel with a sketchpad was not very successful. In my mind however I did successfully hover above the hotel a few times. Imagination is a powerful thing, but it doesn’t make redundant tools like Google Earth and other 3D maps, which were also very useful in mapping the first drafts. In the end, the ultimate was to grab a camera and sketchbook and to walk up Lion’s Head in time for a spectacular sunset. After many pages and a few pencils the first drafts took form.
While I was scribbling away at the drafts, playing with different ideas, a friend was bent in toil with the enormous task to stretch the seven, 3-meter wide canvasses. By mid October I received the call that the canvasses were ready.
With great excitement I voyaged to Swellendam and returned with the stack of huge canvasses strapped to the
roof my car, very, very slowly for fear of going airborne.
And so, a few days later the canvasses were forklifted onto the landing which leads to the loft studio, and I ran entirely out of reasons for not starting.
Paul Marais and family of the beautiful Wonderboom Estate graciously allow me to use the loft above their historical cellar as studio for the duration of the project. It is the perfect place to work and also big enough to install all seven canvasses as they will eventually hang in the restaurant.
Now where do you start, with 25m² of canvas to cover? Bottle of wine… The mixing of the amount and right colors is quite a tedious process. These are oil paintings; acrylics would be a faster medium to work with.
I started with the first one in the sequence, for lack of any reason to start anywhere else and I started with the sky. Large amounts of paint and big brushes. It is hard to describe to people in other professions, the moment when the first bold strokes fall onto a blank canvas.
There is nothing like it; a blend of smoldering excitement, a shimmer of anxiousness, rapture, truth and peace and the overarching feeling of ‘this is what I do, and it feels good’.
I gained momentum quickly and soon most of the canvasses had marks on them, and the intimidating white emptiness receded into the distance.
In the restaurant, three paintings will hang on each of the side walls and one centerpiece on the back wall. The front is glass and commands a view of the real world. The canvasses continue and complete the panorama.
The sequence (clockwise): To the East, Signal Hill. City Bowl. Devil’s Peak. To the South, Table Mountain. Twelve Apostles. To the West, Camps Bay and finally a view looking down onto Bantry Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
At first the canvasses lack depth, because large areas are pretty much just flat color, but gradually with added variation in tone and definition the illusion of depth and perspective deepens. It is great to experience, day by day, as the paintings grow in detail and depth, how the space simultaneously feels bigger.
They are turning into windows.
The biggest challenge thus far, is to keep the focus. Days and many hours go by while you don’t see huge leaps in progress.
The challenge is to keep the mind focused on the end; not to be blinded by what seems to be insignificant daily progress.
After three months I have gotten use to this. I don’t expect anymore to achieve the impossible in one day. I try to pace myself, knowing that each day’s progress is a step closer to the end. Now, looking back over the three months, I am very grateful for all these little steps.
The detail grows and new object and elements are added to the paintings. Gradually they begin to tell their story; each with an identity and spirit of their own yet, all together they are still clan.