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Friday, July 24, 2009


The late Aidan Walsh’s inimitable and humorous comments written in October 2005 linked to a forthcoming exhibition.

The following was sent to artSMart by Andrew Verster, giving the late Aidan Walsh’s inimitable and humorous comments linked to a forthcoming exhibition of his works. It was written on October 10, 2005:

When I was a child, we lived in England – war-torn England. Although I’m South African, I was brought up there because my father had business interests there and the whole family went over – all seven children and my mother – and, BOOM, war was declared. Bad timing.

There was rationing. I was, I believe, considered an odd child – I didn’t like sweets, so I used to give my sweet ration cards (children got extra), to an old lady who lived near us. She was amazingly interesting. Her father had been a doctor in a Catholic Mission Station in Yucatan, and they had a house in Vera Cruz. She was well over 80 and had a collection of exquisitely illustrated books, huge and magnificent, on the rain forests, Mayan and Aztec ruins, the local flora and fauna. Her flat was filled with beautiful objects and Spanish colonial furniture. I was totally captivated by the stories of her childhood, visits to Mexico City, to the forests and all the ruins. She was so absorbing that I used to lose all count of time. Once my father had the canal dragged, thinking I had fallen in. I have always seen filled with curiosity. And Miss Elizabeth Bamber stimulated that curiosity to an amazing degree.

I didn’t ever get to Yucatan. I haven’t been as much a traveller and I would have liked to be. And in another life, I might have become an archaeologist.

At least in this country, I have travelled to some pretty remote places, possibly the most remote being Pofadder. I have made two trips there. It has a weird and unique fascination. I really had no idea whether it existed or not, or was simply a joke. I knew it was real when I discovered it.

So much of my trips around the Northern Cape, arid, desolate and stark, have produced some amazing places, place that people in general hadn’t heard of, and which in their unique way are totally fascinating.

Near Saldanah, I discovered some upright stones near a remote sandy tack which were thought to have been venerated by the San. They possess an aura similar to that which I experienced when I saw some menhirs at Carnac in Brittany. They have a vibrant presence about them.

My friend Lize, who one evening was driving past from Vredenburd to Gonnamanskraal, noticed some indistinct little lights flickering around the stones. She turned off the road and drove towards them. Her husband felt uneasy. He felt they were interfering with something beyond them and that they should turn back. And they did. They both felt the eerie atmosphere exuded by the stones.

Later on, when I joined them for drinks, Lize said that in the 1850s a shipload of Irish immigrants who were fleeing the Potato Famine and religious intolerance, settled in nearby Caledon. Amongst them were Walshes, some who had names that run in my family so they were probably distant relations. She has a theory that when they were packing up in the Holy Isle, some leprechauns sneaked in and stowed away in their portmanteaux and snuck out again in South Africa, and it is they who made their home around the stones.

I remember my first trip to Paris. I had applied for the Atelier flat at the Cité Internationale des Arts. The waiting list was two years. Unexpectedly, Diana Breedt phoned to tell me there had been an unforeseen cancellation and I had to leave within ten days. My passport had expired … Well, those ten days were chaotic. I had my passport and visa just hours before boarding the place. Did I need a Jamiesons once aboard…!

As soon as I arrived in Paris, I headed for Notre Dame, which is right across the bridge from the Cité. I climbed the tower and when I saw the gargoyles face to face, I knew I had come home. Friends and family. Victor Hugo and Alexandre Dumas had had a great effect on me.

My mother, whose father was born in Paris, was very intrigued by French medieval history.

I was inspired by my different stays in Paris to paint various aspects of the sculptures, crypts of that period, including several of the Royal Tombs in Saint Denis – a fabulous necropolis.

After this rambling discourse, I will end by stating the obvious. I am fascinated and attracted to ancient stone, derelict houses, dark empty temples and churches. For me there is always a presence of past humanity. People have lived there, worshipped there and the stones have absorbed their personalities, giving them that strange thing called atmosphere.

My present exhibition on the Karoo, Northern Cape and West Coast centres on this strange and unique landmass. I believe the oldest in the world, It positively throbs with the presence of people and things from the distant past right up to today. (October, 2005)