Revisiting Pierneef

2014-10-01 00:00

WHEN Carl Becker visited an exhibition at Pierneef Museum in Graaff-Reinet in 2007, he had no idea it would be the start of a journey to search for the original sites of Pierneef’s iconic Station Panels.

It would also lead him to photographer Monique Pelser — and between them they have created the fascinating exhibition Our Land/Ons Land that can be viewed at the Durban Art Gallery until October 26.

Speaking to The Witness, the Hermanus-based painter said the joint project came about quite by chance.

“It’s a strange story … it was completely coincidental, because we both decided on our own to do the same project without knowing each other,” he explained.

“I saw the panels in Graaff-Reinet while on holiday and thought it would be a great idea to find the original sites.

“I met Monique [a photographer currently working and living between Cape Town and New York City], through a friend in 2010 and discovered she was working on the same idea.

“We initially pretended the other person didn’t exist and hoped they would go away.

“Then I had an exhibition in Stellenbosch and asked Monique if she would show with me. We are now travelling the exhibition around the country, adding new work as we go along.”

Pierneef, who died in 1957, was commissioned by the South African Railways in 1929 to paint 32 works showing the natural splendour of South Africa. They were completed in 1932 and hung in the concourse of the new Johannnesburg Station.

The works, which depict landscapes from Hermanus in the Western Cape to Louis Trichardt in Limpopo, are seen by many as the most important single body of landscape paintings made by a South African painter.

When Becker decided to revisit the locations of the paintings, however, it proved more difficult than he thought it would be.

“I figured I would spend a couple of weeks doing a road trip … a number of little journeys, because the places are all over South Africa,” he said.

“Some places were easy to recognise, like Knysna Heads.

“You know where you are going to and when you get there the landscape looks like the original Pierneef.

“But, the more generic titles like Bushveld Karoo meant I had to do a lot more research. There are some places I still haven’t found.”

On his journey of discovery, Becker found himself lost more than once.

“When I was looking for places I would take the original picture and talk to people and they would give me directions and I would go off and try to find the place and not find it,” he said.

“But it’s nice having those kinds of experiences, because you are not working in a studio.”

His drawings, watercolours and oil paintings sit side by side with Pelser’s stills and digital screens which depict the light from sunrise to sunset. The result is a conversation about an “Old Master” between photography, installation, drawing and painting.

“I see the exhibition as a way of telling people a part of our art heritage and redirecting people’s attention to it,” says Becker.

“It’s also interesting to see what has happened to the places since [Pierneef] painted them. Some have been completely destroyed and have highways running through them.”

• Ons Land/Our La nd is an ongoing project constantly being revised and extended.

It has been shown at the Stellenbosch University Art Gallery, the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein, and the Ann Bryant Gallery in East London.

JH Pierneef’s Station Panels are currently on view at the Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch.


The Durban Art Gallery (DAG) is open Monday to Saturday from 8.30 am to 4 pm and Sundays from 11 am until 4 pm. Entry is free. Inquiries:

031 311 2264/9. The DAG is on the second floor of the magnificent Durban City Hall; the entrance is opposi te the Playhouse.

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