In the Cape Winelands, a blend of art, nature and wine is music to our spirits.
Words: Anita De Villiers
Pictures: Anita De Villiers and Supplied
Kings and nobles have been patrons of the arts for many centuries, gifting the opportunity to artists to create inspiring paintings, sculptures and music. To rephrase the words of John F Kennedy, ‘If art is to nourish the roots of a culture, a society must set the artists free to follow their vision, wherever it takes them’.
It was with great expectation that I started to follow the trail that would take me to epic artists whose works are actively promoted by modern kings of industry, notably those with viticulture in their veins. An increasing number of wine estates are actively fostering South African art through innovative and explorative avenues, two of which I had the fortune to visit, namely Delaire Graff and Spier in the Stellenbosch winelands.
Laurence Graff’s passion for objects of exquisite beauty started at the age of eighteen, when he opened his first jewellery shop in London, an interest that would inevitably forge a connection with South Africa as a source of diamonds. On one of his visits, he stumbled on a property on the Helshoogte Road between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. In his words, the first sight of this Boland farm ignited in him the same elated emotions that might an exceptional diamond, and a dream to create Delaire as a canvas for objects of art, and the art of living, took shape.
As an avid art collector, international patron of the arts and board member of the Tate, the Museum of Modern Art and the Los Angeles Contemporary Art Museum, Laurence personally selects and curates pieces of art for the Delaire Collection, also commissioning artists for individual and collaborative works. Prominent in the landscaped gardens and interiors of Delaire Graff are works by Lionel Smit and his father Anton.
At Delaire Graff, it’s a visceral experience to lock eyes with the Cape Malay woman in Lionel’s portrait that dominates the reception area. Cape Malay women feature strongly in Lionel’s sculptures and paintings, an identity that for him embodies the hybrid human face of South Africa.
A new addition to the sculpture collection is his monumental Morphous, two bronze heads that look to opposite directions, both the past and the future of our cultural psyche.
Similar in magnitude, but powerfully signifying his distinctive style, is Anton’s abstract Sandstone Head, which stares with primeval mien over the contours of the garden and vineyards. Initially sculpted at a quarry from a piece of sandstone weighing more than five tons, this remarkable work was commissioned for Delaire Graff Estate.
In similar expressive vein are Anton’s Monument for the Common People figures and his lone Youth Torso that flank the walkway to the main building on the estate. And among all these human-like figures in the landscape stand Dylan Lewis’ proud cheetah bronzes that have so much emotional content they sent me searching for the artist the following day. What I found was his Sculpture Garden just outside Stellenbosch that will be opening next year, by appointment. It’s a place that will become a sanctuary, where art and nature figuratively touch like the fingers in Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam.
The Graff Collection is extensive, also including artists like William Kentridge, Deborah Bell, Sidney Kumalo, Maurice van Essche, Cecil Skotnes, Ndikhumbule Ngqinambi and more. In place of pride stands Tretchikoff’s original Chinese Girl. After being in a private collection in America for close to fifty years, it went on auction in London. This is one of the paintings that kindled Laurence Graff’s interest in art at a young age, and so he bought it and brought it home in 2013.
Compared to Delaire’s modern architecture, Spier’s buildings are graced with 21 Cape Dutch gables dating back to the mid-18th century. Owned by the Enthoven family, it is one of the oldest farms in the Stellenbosch region. On an estate that integrates biodynamic, sustainable farming and wine production, social commitment and development, as well as hospitality and tourism, Spier Arts embraces several diverse visual-arts projects and programmes that seem to fit comfortably into the bigger picture of this historic farm.
It was the connection of Berco Wilsenach to Spier that first piqued my interest, as both Berco’s and my roots go back to the Limpopo town of Polokwane (Pietersburg). Berco was one of five artists that have thus far benefited from the Spier Artist Patronage Programme, which aims to intensively support exceptional artists for a period of about four years, during which they can fully pursue their art.
In 2013, Berco’s work culminated in a solo exhibition at Spier, called The Blind Astronomer. It is an installation consisting of a series of star maps on glass panels, depicting the conceptual link of sightedness/blindness with the appreciation of art. Of note is the work of other artists whose careers have gained from this patronage, namely Wim Botha, Paul Emmanuel, Tamlin Blake and, at present, Liza Grobler.
Spier’s initiatives benefit a wide range of people, as the 150 participating artists in the Creative Block project can attest to. On 18cm² blocks, established and promising South African artists use a variety of mediums to create modern visual vignettes that can be bought at affordable prices.
The constantly evolving Creative Block concept has been extrapolated to Spier’s raison d’être, that of winemaking. Grapes from different vineyard blocks are blended to create wines for Spier’s Creative Block range that is breaking new grounds, winning gold and double-gold awards nationally and internationally.
Curated by Yellowwoods Art, the rotating Spier Art Collection promotes the work of both established and rising artists, including Pieter Hugo, Kagiso Pat Mautloa and Helen Sebidi. It is as if the abstract sculptures in the landscaped gardens impale the historicity of Spier, but it is when you approach the huge installation of Marco Cianfanelli that you are stopped in your tracks.
Inspired by Michelangelo’s 2.15m-high marble sculpture, The Dying Slave, which is held in the Louvre, Cianfanelli wanted to translocate the dying slave’s emotions to the African context. From a certain distance, the nine staggered columns standing 4.2m high suddenly come into relief, showing the passion-ridden face of a black slave.
The choice of mosaic as medium for The Dying Slave created an avenue for yet another of Spier’s projects, the Arts Academy. The Academy offers an employment-based, three-year apprenticeship in Mosaic Art.
From Cianfanelli’s digital blueprint, the visual intricacy was interpreted into contemporary mosaic style, and the academy’s students continued to create the nine columns over a period of five months, using 225 000 pieces of hand-cut limestone, marble, granite, pebbles, glass, porcelain and small Italian tiles – more than 1 500kg of material. It’s a monument to the artists and the people who can see and connect the dots to nourish this country’s culture and soul.
When artists are given the opportunity and platform to delight, engage, criticise, and inspire, art has the potential to communicate across human divisions and to link the past, the present and the future. So, to the artists and their patrons, cheers, and may Wine Art flourish.
More Winelands Art
A number of wine estates in the Stellenbosch-Franschhoek-Paarl region have galleries and/or sculpture gardens, and actively promote South African art:
- The Rupert family is greatly invested in South African art. In Franschhoek, the La Motte Wine Estate Art Collection is largely dedicated to the work of one of South Africa’s great masters, JH Pierneef. Rotating annually is the contemporary art exhibition, currently focusing on top female artists. 021 876 8000, www.la-motte.com
- The KWV Art Collection in Paarl includes the work of master artists, including Marjorie Wallace, Irma Stern, Maurice van Essche and Tinus de Jongh. The Sensorium invites visitors to partake in parings of works of art with wines. 021 807 3007, www.kwvsensorium.com
- The Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate Collection in Franschhoek rotates on a regular basis. It features the work of the finest established and emerging artists working in all forms of visual arts, including painting, graphic arts, sculpture, ceramics, glass and jewellery. 021 876 8630, [email protected]