Journey across the landscapes of time, space

I had the extraordinary privilege for a one-on-one conversation with esteemed South African artist Scats Esterhuyse, at the tasting gallery at Avondale estate, in the Klein Drakenstein on the outskirts of Paarl recently.

I arrived on a wet, grey day- and as I approached the lovely building. I was struck by the colourful of flowers in the glorious indigenous garden framed by the autumn leaves on the trellis above.The genial Avondale proprietor, Johnathan Grieve, met me at the door and, bade me welcome into the biodynamic heaven that is their family estate- and between the two of them, I was treated to a private lesson in art, soil and synergy (or as the Bard said so eloquently, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments”). Scats matriculated from the School of Art, Ballet, Drama and Music in Parktown in 1970. He is a self-taught artist being inspired by the likes of Luigi Loir, George Innis and William Turner, and he became a professional fine artist in 1996, after many years as a professional drummer percussionist. His current exhibition, Crossing Over, now graces the walls of the venue, and it is hard to do justice to them in words on paper – I highly recommend that you make your way over there and gaze at them yourself. He captures the ephemeral nature of life, of beauty in landscapes – whether populated by little buildings in dusty Karoo towns; or the majestic Drakensberg with immense open skies and the threat of an imminent downpour where the Nguni herd grazes; to a peaceful bend of the Kaaimans River in Wildnerness; “Natligte” of a car wining up a rain – drenched road in Bredasdorp, the steeple of the Dutch Reformed Church dictating the skyline – a theme reflected in “Natpadnapier” as well. His depiction of the Santos Pavilion was so familiar to me, as I grew up in Mossel Bay – its pale edifice in the distance along the beach, in this area so steeped in history because of its original Khoisan inhabitants. Impressionistic rendering of the “Dorpersvergadering” in Aberdeen, another ancient landscape, its dry earth and the fortitude of the plants that survive there, and these sheep so quintessential to the area, with their white fleece and black faces. Scats says that “success is to find the road that suits your gifts and talents, then keep on walking” – his journey has taken him far and wide across beloved South African landscapes, at a pace that has allowed him to capture the nuance of what he observes,  of identifying the soul imbedded in what his eyes perceived.  “I always get the feeling there is so much more to discover” he says, of driving down a little unexplored road in the Hex River Valley. “The elements of crossing over from here to there, leaving behind the old, embracing the new, the “promised Land” – being on the move like a flowing river, all reaffirmed my feeling of the state of time, and all of its connotations. This is the definitive underlying grain in my recent body of works”, he says of the exhibition. Scats strives for perfection “in an organic way” – which makes it such a perfect fit that this body of work now adorns its new home at Avondale. The estate’s ethos is Terra Est Vita (Soil is Life), reflecting their attitude towards the environment, and very much driven by the owners’ son, Johnathan – who joined the farm in 1999 – and brought about a revolutionary change at Avondale, developing his approach to farming and wine making through the prism of what is not only good for the wines, but also for the soil, the environment and the biodiversity of the area. They follow the BioLOGIC approach to farming, which encompasses all the best elements of organic and biodynamic farming, while still taking advantage of the benefits that modern science has to offer. Johnathan aspires to creating conditions that are “conducive to more life …and creating conditions that supports this ideal” – and this extends to the greater community. An example the centre they established, whereby workers can complete an Adult Basic Education Programme (ABET), and become involved in sporting activities too. Before leaving, I tasted some of their superb wines (which have glorious art labels): Anima, their lively chenin blanc; Cyclus, a refreshing white blend; La Luna, a classic red blend; Samsara, a Syrah; Navitas, the flagship red blend; and Armilla, a Brut made in the Methode Cap Classique tradition, visit avondale.dev.

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