Over the holidays, as I was heading back from Radloff Park and a lovely walk with the dogs at the riverside, I passed a familiar sight: an old red Vespa came buzzing past me, with the familiar smiling, bearded face of beloved local artist Frans Groenewald, on his way up to his studio at Lourensford Estate.
I did a U-turn, and intercepted him in the parking lot under the oak trees. “So, what’s happening, anything exciting?” I asked him.
He whipped out his phone and showed me a couple of photos, which told the sweetest story (and good stories, as our readers know, is exactly what we’re always on the lookout for).
That this tale was one of love, simply brightened my day. A follow-up visit to the studio a few weeks later, and I got the whole story…
Chris Eksteen, who is a regular visitor to the estate, shared the chronology of events.
“A little over year ago I was playing around on Tinder (a dating application, he adds… ‘for those who live in caves and don’t go on the grid much’).”
He came across a profile where the pictures were “absolutely shockingly, terrible, so bad actually that it caught my attention immediately,” he explains. This very badly put-together profile belonged to Genevieve Da Silva, and that’s where it all started, swipe right.
Shortly after meeting, “right there and then I knew this girl was absolutely mind-blowingly special… I have been blessed,” says Chris.
Fast forward a year, and “I found myself thinking of the perfect way to ask her to marry me.” They have a Sunday ritual after church, going to Lourensford Market to unwind, chat and start the week relaxed.
“This is our special place, and if I where to ask her, what better place than one we can always come back to, and build a memory.”
And this is where Frans came in, as he’d previously done some art work for Chris, and what started off as a simple idea very quickly became a bit more complicated and ambitious, as Chris decided to have a treasure hunt too, and involve some stallholders at the market.
On the special day, December 18, each place they then visited yielded a clue for Genevieve, with Frans’s studio as the final destination, where eventually Chris went down on one knee, and proposed to Genevieve – who, needless to say, said a resounding “yes!”.
Frans continues the tale: “Since my career as an artist started 13 years ago, I have been approached by many people to do special commissioned paintings for them as a gift for a special friend, family member and a corporate colleague.”
Looking around his studio, evidence of his quirky, creative sense of humour is evident everywhere on the colourful walls and canvases.
I have many of Frans’s artworks, collected over the years (and I’m talking along the lines of cards, prints, calendars, fridge magnets, and even an apron, with his quintessential Italian-type pictures, with clever wordplay, that has become his trademark.
“This ‘Paint Your Story’ has grown into quite a big part of my annual project mix, which includes gallery (self-expression art), illustrations for companies, creating new images for printed products, children’s books etc,” says Frans.
By now we’ve walked over the nearby coffee roastery for a top-up.
He is clearly here as often as he is at his studio, judging by how many people stop to greet him, and have a leisurely talk.
The art commissions are mostly received with great excitement, and often tears, as it resonates with the person’s own life, and is often orchestrated by a few close-knit people involved, he says.
“I give the client a list of questions to help gather some information, then develop a concept sketch with a touch of wit (wordplay), subject to some changes and the final artwork to fit the budget,” Frans says.
“I have met some very interesting people through my work, and doing these story paintings is a great privilege to creatively capture someone’s life on canvas.
“At a deepest level in our psyche we want to be acknowledged, belong and feel secure. And therefore the visual narrative or story touches our soul,” he adds.
The added elements of wordplay, fresh colours, illustrative and quirky style also puts a smile in the heart and mind of the client, that much is clear.
What particularly catches my attention is Frans’s ability to play with words and phrases, which he uses to perfect effect on his artwork, and if ever he wants to moonlight as a sub-editor, he’d be snapped up!
While I was taking some more photos at the gallery, some visitors from abroad came in to buy some canvasses, first insisting that he sign them on the front.
A German couple tells me that visiting his studio is a highlight of their annual visits, and then an American visitor strolls in, also a repeat customer, and the talk turns to Trumpian politics…
Fortified by the good company, stimulating conversation, gorgeous visuals and a great cup of Joe, I reluctantly headed off.
We’ll cover some more of these wonderful painted stories in future editions of Bolander, and it may even be yours…
For information visit www.vespaghetti-art.com
Frans has offered a lucky Bolander reader the opportunity to have their story captured on canvas. To qualify, send an SMS with your name and the code word BDVESPA to 34445. SMSes cost R1.50, and lines close on Friday January 27. The winner will be notified telephonically.