In September 1998 I trekked up to Namibia with my family. This was going to be a family holiday with a difference. I had sent almost 80 paintings up to a gallery in Swakopmund to have my first ever exhibition. A year before I had changed jobs, from a frustrating comfort zone in the oil industry to a challenging position in one of the large financial services companies. I remember my heart sinking the first time I looked across acres of open-plan hokkies with people buzzing around like bees on a honey-comb. The change was largely brought on by a journal I had begun. I was working through Julia Cameron’s book “The Artists Way”. Every morning I would get to work early and write my three pages, sitting in the parking lot. Most mornings I started by writing “So what are you doing about your exhibition”.
Back in my previous company I would take my paintings and pin them up in my hokkie just to look at.
One day someone called John pinned this note next to my painting:
So I started thinking about an exhibition. And I started working. It just happened that way. Most Friday and Saturday nights I would set up my watercolour works on the kitchen table at about 21:00 when my family were going to bed. And I would paint, often till 02:00 or 03:00. Usually I would realise I could not see what I was doing anymore from being too tired. And in the week I would put my paintings up in hok and dream about painting while I dealt with the business of Software Quality Management. And in the middle of the year I contacted Sharon at Hobby Horse. She had been so gentle with my first pictures I brought to the gallery when I lived in Swakop and had sold some of my work. I had said that if I ever held an exhibition I would give her first ops. She and Don were keen so we started organising – through fax! I sent my all of my work up to Windhoek with someone who was flying up for business. Don organised to pick up the work and got busy with framing.
My friend Melanie helped me design the invitation and wrote the paragraph about the artist. I organised with friend Roy the printer to print the invitations. And that was a mission. Eventually they had a mistake in the address. But anyway.
I had a wonderful day working with Sharon and Don to put up my pictures in the gallery. He teased me about my write up on the invitation which admittedly was a rather grand.
It was so exciting. And that night I presented my work to the town. Or at least those who were there.
Animus and anima refer to the male and female sides of our psyche. It seemed to describe the desert in Namib desert and the lush green of Cape Town. So this was not a major thesis in psychology. My two main pictures were of a boy, my son Calvin, lying on the Brandberg – at the top of Amies Gorge, looking across this vast plain to Table Mountain in the distance – Anima. The other painting was of a little girl peeping out from behind a stone-pine, from the slopes of Table Mountain. She is looking across a vast plain to Spitskop in the distance. Spitskop and Brandberg are both granite plugs that rise majestically out of the desert plain. mmmm as I write I feel the tug. We had some great camping trips out there. I remember lying next to a little fire on top of Brandberg with leopard, who had followed us all day, grunting just off in the dark. My daughter put on a tutu and posed for the Anima picture. I put a line drawing of the paintings on the invitation.
And here are the paintings. They are both on Fabriano – smooth, and are each about 760x1000mm which was a large on which to paint watercolour.
We had a few days in Swakopmund before the exhibition so we took a drive up the coast to Cape Cross, then inland past Brandberg West, where there used to be a copper mine, and round the west side of the Brandberg to Uis, where they had converted the old club into a motel where we booked in for the night. I got up early the next morning and drove back to the Brandberg where I sat on a nearby kopjie and painted two pictures. The first was sold in the exhibition but I kept one.
This is one of my favourite watercolours and I am glad I still have it. The trees in the foreground are Brandberg Acacias which only grow in that area, apparently, at least that is what my friend Buzzy told me.
It would have been great to show some of the work I had on exhibition. I really pushed my skills quite far in that year. I took pictures with my camera, as I set up the exhibition, but they were such poor quality that it is not worth putting them here. I should have taken slides but had prints. Anyway – it is OK to sell and move on.
It was dead quiet as I sat and painted. Every now and again the karoo-toads in the valley would chorus – kwa kwor kwa kwor – then fall silent. As I sat I heard a droning. Looking up I saw a cloud of dust on the road on which I came. Over the next 10 minutes the sound grew and faded and grew. Then this old old landrover bakkie came clanking past on the road below. Then the sound slowly faded in the growing heat haze. I finished this painting then packed up my stuff and returned to Uis. I have not been back since.