Down to a FynArt

Anita de Villiers heads for the Overberg to celebrate the exuberant Hermanus FynArts festival. This was her experience…

HermanusFineArts_3555What’s in a name? In the case of Hermanus FynArts, it’s the undertones and overtones of a place and event that give new meaning to the idea of a gathering of people to celebrate the arts.

Mary Faure, wannabe retiree from a full and busy academic life, found that the air of Hermanus was not conducive to her plans for slowing down. The muses wandering along the dramatic rocky shore kept stirring her ever-active mind.

Together with friend and author Christopher Hope, the idea of “doing something” in this most scenic place in the Overberg clicked into focus when Christopher hit on the inspirational name, Hermanus FynArts. ‘Fyn’ plays on the fynbos of this section of the Cape Floral Kingdom, and refers to fine arts.

And so in June 2013, the first FynArts brought its warmth and exuberance to the winter-clad town of Hermanus in the Cape Overberg.

The day couldn’t have been a brighter blue when I arrived in Hermanus early in June 2015. My week of festivity started off with a frothy cappuccino at The Burgundy restaurant, with a view across the azure expanse of Walker Bay. La dolce vita and buona coincidenza indeed, as the festival programme promised hints of Italian seasoning fused with exquisite homegrown flavours.

The informal opening was at Gearing Point’s furthest rocky outcrop, the lookout point from where the safe return of fishermen to the Old Harbour was viewed in earlier days. Champagne bottles popped and speeches were made, but it was the setting, and the Sculptures on the Cliffs exhibition that carried the weight of the moment.

At the allegorical centre was sculptor Adriaan Diedericks’ mythological figure Adamastor, with its outstretched, ship-rigged arms embodying the forces of nature that Portuguese sailors of old had to face when they navigated the Cape of Storms.

HermanusFynArts_3575

HermanusFynArts_3623During the week, the sculptures would draw me back to the cliffs again and again – Anton Smit’s ethereal circle of nymphs, Marieke Prinsloo-Rowe’s diaphanous girl, Jaco Sieberhagen’s flaming protea, Jean Theron Louw’s reflective Ouma Sarah, Gordon Froud’s giant metal star and Strijdom van der Merwe’s modern totem poles. In the words of festival director Mary Faure, “This festival differs from other festivals in that it focuses primarily on the visual arts, not to put the other art forms on the backseat.”

With the sun tipping westward, the group of art lovers sauntered up Harbour Road to the Rossouw Modern Art Gallery for the opening of Diane Victor and Gordon Froud’s exhibition Second Lives. For Diane, the theme cuts close to the bone, as she had a life-saving kidney transplant the previous year. So she also gave some of her existing work a second life by adding what she calls an ephemeral layer, using the medium of candle smoke.

Working with fast flame strokes (“otherwise the paper burns”), she paints from beneath the canvas (“somewhat like Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel ceiling”), guided by her “intuition and muscle memory”, in a creative process that feels like “catching a ghost”. (Diane’s technique can best be appreciated by watching the YouTube clip Catching Ghosts below). Gordon’s approach to the theme was the combination of “ordinary things found, and transforming them into a work of art”.

A visit to the 19 galleries and venues along the FynArts Amble was reason enough to attend the festival. However, lesson number one when attending an art festival is to be selective, as the smorgasbord is just too large and tempting. With wine and food an additional enticement, a leisurely drive to three of the seven participating wine farms of the Hemel en Aarde Valley occupied most of the next crisp, sunny day. Sumaridge, Bouchard Finlayson and Creation were on the menu.

The annual Tollman Bouchard Finlayson Art Award has become a core event on the FynArts programme. The key concept is that of tondo, a Rennaissance term derived from the Italian rotondo, meaning ‘round’. Artists compete for handsome prizes, with circular-shaped works of art displayed on the ends of the wine barrels in Bouchard Finlayson’s enormous cellar. The 2015 theme was Connections, with joint winners Juanita Oosthuizen and Gill Allderman-Cowen, each receiving R15 000 in prize money.

At the Sumaridge Tasting Room, the beautiful surroundings matched the fine wines, only to be outshone by young local artist Jono Dry’s hyper-realistic pencil drawings that explore the theme of vulnerability and introspection.

HermanusFynArts_3992

Cappuccino was called for at the last stop, Creation, where Roberto Vaccaro’s wildlife sculptures from scrap metal, most notably gin traps, conveyed a multi-layered message – wild animals in their fight for survival, but also the steel bond between man and animal that can be beneficial or destructive to both.

The Tasting Room was humming and caffeine surrendered to pairing Creation’s Pinot Noir with offerings of duck breast, beetroot, goat’s milk cheese and raspberry. Tastebud heaven. I pledged to follow chef Warwick Taylor to the ends of the Earth, which was not necessary, as he was one of the chefs at the Feast of the Senses gourmet dinner that evening at Penny Streeter and Nick Rea’s beautiful manor house on Benguela Cove wine estate, along the banks of the Botrivier Lagoon.

Under the baton of master chef Garth Stroebel, eight chefs paired their gourmet dishes with accompanying wines from the area, to give the appreciative diners an experience to be remembered. Serenaded as we were by a violinist and accordionist (very Italian, very handsome), with the sun setting over the lake, surrounded by Sheena Ridley’s striking sculptures and paintings, it was, in a word, bellissimo. A tip for this year’s festival-goers is to book for this dinner asap as tickets fly once they go on sale.

Very popular and also an early sell-out, were the old movies shown at the Movie-Go-Round vintage mini-theatre, many with an Italian flavour (think Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, It Started in Naples with Clark Gable and Sophia Loren, Come September with Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida). Workshops galore there were, on the FynArt of writing crime fiction with Mike Nicol, or short stories for radio with Duncan Minshull from BBC Radio, mastering some mosaic techniques with Alex Forsyth, painting ceramics with Clement Mkhize, being a flâneur (street/urban) photographer in the Zwelihle settlement with Amos Gumbo and Leanne Dryburgh, and much more. In all of it the prospect of growing our creativity was exciting and enticing.

HermanusFineArts_3733

For the kids there were puppet shows, and the one that brought joy to all the young at heart was Joey the War Horse. Joey is a life-size puppet horse created by the South African Handspring Puppet Company for the play War Horse that has been touring world stages since 2009. He breathes, he shows emotion, he gets rambunctious, he is larger than life and he steals every heart that he inevitably warms.

The feast of music performances ranged from opera to jazz, from big brass to ensemble, from choral to piano and string recitals. But supremo of all was Last Night at the Proms, conducted by Richard Cock, who received a special award in 2013, among his many others, for ‘thirty years’ dedication to spreading the love of music in South Africa’. And that he certainly did on this occasion. The first half was really what you would expect, with a mass choir and three superb young soloists setting the mood: Puccini’s O Mio Babbino Caro, Verdi’s Brindisi and his Slaves Chorus.

After interval, the choir returned with flags and funny hats, Richard clad in the South African flag, and the concert turned into a party. Streamers and balloons came down, we did the Macarena, sang O Sole Mio, held our hearts with Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, got teary with Parry’s Jerusalem and finally marched back into our own lives, greatly enriched, to Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance. A fyn festival indeed.

HermanusFynArts_10

Handy Info

  • The date for the 2016 Hermanus FynArts is 10-19 June. For more information visit the website www.hermanusfynarts.co.za or contact Hermanus Tourism Office at [email protected]
  • A French flavour will complement this year’s (2016) events, food and art. Louis Jansen van Vuuren, a South African artist based in France, is this year’s Festival Artist.

Send this to a friend