Coolest place in Boland

Bolander editor happened upon Stephen Quirke, pictured alongside his beloved Lourens River on Saturday morning, with passer-by Asante looking on. It resulted in a lovely, animated conversation about the joys of our natural surroundings (indeed, the last time was at the river mouth at Strand Beach, where Stephen was also painting, and selling his exquisite calendars).
Corli and James Krohn
Ian McNaught Davis and Jonathan Griffiths PICTURES: CAROLYN MCGIBBON
Familiar scenes are depicted in all Stephen’s artwork, like this spot along Clarence Drive near Rooi Els.

It may well be the coolest place this summer: the white wine cellar at Lanzerac midst shady oaks where top watercolourist Stephen J Quirke is displaying his visionary work.

Titled Light is Sweet, the gallery is breathtaking in scope.

It is a working wine cellar, and while the sauvignon blanc juices gently mull in French oak barrels, above them stretch two lines of exquisite paintings.

The eastern wall tells the visual story of the beloved Lourens River, from Diepgat cave high up in the Jonkershoek mountains, through the Vergelegen, Lourensford and Hathersage farms, wending under bridges to embrace the ocean at the Strand.

The opposite wall is an artistic exploration of gorgeous False Bay. Highlights include Hangklip, Puddle Rock, Bikini Beach, the Pipe, Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, the Boulders, and Smitswinkel Bay.

In pride of place is the best watercolour in South Africa – a landscape of the Lourens River at Hathersage Farm, which was awarded first prize by judges at the recent South African Society of Artists awards.

Opening the exhibition a fortnight ago, Stellenbosch artist and lifelong friend, James Krohn, noted that watercolour was a medium rarely mastered.

Although it was commonplace (most children had a palette), mastery only came through a boldness borne of practice.

He said part of the magic of the medium was its translucence.

‘’Light transmits through the pigment creating a glow, that even when vibrant and bright, soothes the retina.

“Like the late afternoon sun dappling through the oak leaves. The whole body feels it. Because light is sweet.”

James recalled that their friendship dated back more than 30 years when in Namibia.

‘’I met Steve and his wife, Aura, back in those sublime desert days when the earth seemed a lot more innocent than it does now.

“Hours driving through soft sand did not seem a waste. Even a day’s digging out Stephen’s old yellow Landy near the Orange River was deeply satisfying.

‘’And sweet were the full days roped up on the endless granite cliffs of the Spitzkop, until in the cool of the day, the vast endless curved horizon tilted past the sun… last light.’’

Back in the 80s, Stephen persuaded James to take watercolour classes. James then continued to study art.

He noted that: ‘’Stephen, the real artist between us, ploughed on in the corporate world to do what a man must do, barely keeping the artistic flame alive in his spare hours. What he has accomplished is remarkable.

“So at last, in a move of great faith, great risk, great cost and great vulnerability, Stephen is now painting fulltime.’’

James said: ”Look at these paintings. These are the real deal in an increasingly-artificial world.

“It takes someone who has lived in nature, who understands and knows the earth, to paint with such personal clarity, affection, beauty and vision.

He said Stephen told him: ‘’God has made the world beautiful because He is light and beauty, and I want to show that in my art’’.

In case you were wondering, the temperature in the White Wine Cellar at Lanzerac is a delicious 12 degrees.

* The Light is Sweet exhibition runs until mid-January next year. Calendars illustrating 12 of the False Bay scenes are available from Sage & Thyme in Somerset West or from the artist’s website at www.sjqwatercolour.com