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Sunday, March 8, 2015


Lavishly illustrated book delves into the home environment of 15 top South African artists. (Review by Caroline Smart)

Ever wondered what kind of environment inspires a visual artist – whether it be for work or leisure? Do they collect things? What kind of decor do they prefer? What do they hang on their walls – their own work or that of others? Do they like a clean design or prefer to live in a glorious mixed clutter of much-loved possessions?

Paul Duncan, an independent media consultant and former editorial director at Condé Nast Independent Magazines and editor of Condé Nast’s House & Garden (South Africa), took his curiosity a quantum leap forward. He approached well-known artists in different disciplines to see if they would be prepared to open their homes for public knowledge.

Some 15 artists generously agreed to do so and the result is South African Artists at Home, an impressive coffee table book lavishly illustrated with full-page photographs. A credit to the photographers and the design team, it takes the reader into bedrooms, kitchens, lounges and gardens which reflect an extension of the artists’ lifestyle.

The list of artists includes Conrad Botes, Willem Boshoff, Kate Gottgens, Willie Bester, Jody Paulsen, Hylton Nel, Tom Cullberg, Roger Ballen, Michael Taylor, Sanell Aggenbach and Brett Murray, Beezy Bailey, Sam Nhlengethwa, Johann Louw and Barend de Wet.

There are memorable images, such as Hylton Nel’s numerous carpets and books; Roger Ballen’s giant delicious monsters in his tree-filled garden or Willem Boshoff relaxing in bed, coffee mug in one hand and a Thesaurus in the other while a contented cat lies at the foot of the bed. Barend de Wet’s “knitted” enamel-painted sculpture cast in bronze stares at itself in a mirror. Beezy Bailey’s bathroom hosts a large shoe collection beneath a ceiling of embedded perlemoen shells (as seen on the front cover, above).

Some of the houses date way back: Johann Louw’s to the 1890’s, Hylton Nel’s to the 1850’s while Sanell Aggenbach and Brett Murray’s home was built in 1750. By contrast, there’s Michael Taylor’s studio in his small flat. Then there’s Willie Bester’s attention-grabbing house surrounded with pipes and machinery gadgets which has a vintage Fiat 500 hanging in one of the rooms.

Don’t just look at the pictures – really explore them. It’s a fascinating adventure. Let your eyes wander through the bookcases, the shelves and the ornaments on the tables, not to mention the artists’ choice of kitchen utensils! A number of the artists are avid collectors, such as Sam Nhlengethwa with his 400 strong jazz vinyl collection.

Duncan’s writing style is comfortable and informal, avoiding the often-incomprehensible ”artspeak” so prevalent in discussions about artists. While revealing their personal living and working environments, he also gives details about the artists’ lives and their work.

My only disappointment is that no KwaZulu-Natal artists are represented. To name a few, Andrew Verster, Andries Botha, Themba Shibase and Carl Roberts would have made major contributions.

Published in hardcover by Struik Lifestyle and released in February 2015, South African Artists at Home is priced at R375. ISBN: 9781432301958 – Caroline Smart