Karoo - A solo exhibition by Bruce Backhouse - Gallery 2

Page 1

May 2021


Bruce Backhouse is a landscape painter who lives in Johannesburg. Bruce started out as a fine art student at Rhodes University under Brian Bradshaw, then enjoyed a successful 25-year career in advertising as an art director and creative director. He spent eight years managing Image Bank South Africa before becoming a full-time artist in 2004. Throughout his career, Bruce has immersed himself in the vast arid interior of South Africa – the Great Karoo and the Kalahari. His landscape paintings are the consequence of his intense visceral relationship with uninhabited aridity devoid of human manipulation. Preferring to work on location, never from photographs, he is a firm believer in the subconscious development of the artists mark with “time in the saddle”. This body of work, in watercolours and oils, stretches back over countless trips to the Great Karoo over the last 10 years.

Lone Koppie, Rain Near Gariep Dam, oil on canvas, 60 x 100cm, 2021

Painted in February this year in my studio after a trip to the Gariep Dam area. Huge rain had left the Karoo greener than I’d ever seen it. I will never paint directly from a photograph. I prefer relying on my memory.

Bergplaas Long View, oil on canvas, 90 x 130cm, 2015 - 2018

Bergplaas Long View

This gives an example of my so-called methodology. Keeping a sketchbook is the best habit an artist can have. From small scale sketchbook drawings, large scale oils evolve. With everything in between. If there’s such a thing as a favourite view in the Karoo, this is it for me. I’ve painted it more than any other location. Bergplaas is the farm where I do my Watercolour Workshop.

Bergplaas, 31st Jan 2021 ink on paper, 15 x 15cm, 2021, framed

Until recently, this particular viewpoint, wherever you looked, showed no sign of human intervention. No telephone poles, no roads, no fences, no beacons. Now, if you look carefully on a clear day, you’ll see the Noupoort wind turbines 60kms away on the horizon.

Bergplaas Long View I

Bergplaas Long View II

watercolour, 22 x 30cm, 2021, framed

watercolour, 38 x 56cm, 2021, framed

Bergplaas Long View III, watercolour, 29 x 76cm, 2021, framed

Bergplaas Long View IV, watercolour, 29 x 76cm, 2021, framed

Bergplaas Long View in B&W watercolour & Indian ink on paper, 38 x 56cm, 2021, framed

A South African Journey No.1,

A South African Journey No.2

watercolour, 70 x 50cm, 2005, framed

watercolour, 70 x 50cm, 2005, framed

A South African Journey No. 1 & 2

These date back to 2005, and are the earliest paintings on show. I was flying back to Joburg from Cape Town, with my head against the plane window. For a good hour, I had time to digest the heart of our country, from above. Back in my studio, I put this pair of paintings down in watercolour, from memory.

Near Graaff-Reinet, Diptych, watercolour on fabriano, 56 x152cm, framed

If you’re driving between Graaff-Reinet and Aberdeen, after about 50kms look to your right. I found a farmer who showed me the incredible vistas from near the top of one of his mountains. I spent three days perched next to a perennial fountain that fed the valleys below. It had not stopped pouring out sweet water “since my great grandfather settled here” the farmer said. “This fontein is the source of the Sundays River and eventually flows into the ocean at PE.” In those three days, I painted on location, my biggest watercolour to date. It was a story that I had to record.

Karoo Preserved Series, Near Prince Albert, oil on canvas, 91 x 122cm, 2016

Wide Karoo, Near Hofmeyr

Near Middelburg, Karoo

oil on canvas, 70 x 70cm, 2021

oil on canvas, 70 x 70cm, 2021

Riverbed near Middleburg, Karoo, oil on canvas, 90 x 210cm, 2017

Karoo Preserved series, Yardley Farm 2 oil on canvas, 76 x 76cm, 2012

Yardley Farm near Colesberg was where I started painting the Karoo. It still belongs to a friend. My first ever decent sized watercolour lives and hangs in the farmhouse. I have a pencil-crayon drawing of the Yardley landscape from 26 years ago that I will never sell. This I use as a fall-back reference when unsure of where to go in my next Karoo painting. This was the case in this painting, Yardley Farm 2. I painted it in 3 days in 2012. It was shown at the Sydney Art Fair.

Karoo Preserved Series Monochrome I

Karoo Preserved Series Monochrome II

watercolour, 38 x 56cm, 2018, framed

watercolour, 38 x 56cm, 2018, framed

Karoo Preserved Series Monochrome III

Karoo Preserved Series Monochrome IV

watercolour, 38 x 56cm, 2018, framed

watercolour, 38 x 56cm, 2018, framed

Karoo Preserved, Diptych, oil on canvas, 75 x 260cm, framed

Climbing Kompasberg, oil on canvas, 110 x 110cm

I had looked in awe at Kompasberg, the highest mountain in the Karoo, for far too long. So in early summer 2015 on a perfect day, together with a few friends, we decided to do it. Halfway up, looking back, this is what I saw in my mind’s eye. It stuck. Back in the studio my memory kicked in, and I put this down for posterity.

Preserved Series Square Nine

Windmill near Graaff-Reinet

oil on canvas, 51 x 51cm, 2013

oil on canvas, 51 x 51cm, 2016

Karoo Preserved Series, Five Layers towards Meiringspoort oil on canvas, 75 x 100cm, 2013

I’d driven the road between Beaufort West and Meiringspoort many times. As one approaches the mountains, there seem to be five geological layers and it’s a miracle that a road has been carved through them. Back in the studio, my memory took over and did its best to remind me of the contrasting colours, textures and formations. It’s actually a tar road, but I felt turning it to dirt was the right visual decision.

. Koffiebus & Teebus In Ivory Black, oil on canvas, 90 x130cm, 2019

From the Mountain Hut, Dwarsvlei (Near Middelburg) oil on canvas, 90 x 130cm, 2015-2018

In 2015 I stayed alone for 8 nights, in a hunting hut high in the Sneeuberg. The location was everything. I looked down upon the vast triangle that is between Hofmeyr, Middelburg and Schoombee. I started out as I always do, doing small pen & ink drawings in my sketchbook. Then onto bigger watercolours, and finally tackling this oil on canvas. Painting “en plein air” presents unforeseen challenges. You have to get up early (4am, just before first light), to get set up. This entails carrying easel, canvas, painting equipment up to the nearby viewpoint. By the middle of the day the light is too flat and harsh. By 9am, the wind picks up. Canvas acts as a sail. Yes, halfway through this painting, it took off, settling at the bottom of a krans. Miraculously, minimal damage. I finished the painting in my studio. But the result would not have been as successful, I believe, had I not stayed in the mountain hut.

Near Dwarsvlei Karoo 6 Warm Karoo Landscapes watercolour, 38 x 38cm, 2015, framed

watercolour, 28 x 39cm, 2016, framed

Close-up Koffiebus and Teebus oil on canvas, 64 x 76cm, 2021 The tarred R56 runs in between these two koppies, between Steynsburg and Middelburg, at a place called Schoombee. I have ridden my bike around both koppies, and their shapes change all the time. I must have done 100 sketches, watercolours and oils of these two classic Karoo mountains. The story goes that the English farmed under the more delicate and dainty Teebus (Tea Tin), and the Boers under the bolder, more gutsy looking Koffiebus( Coffee Can). If true, there’s no guessing who named them.

Distant Koffiebus and Teebus

Red Karoo Mountains

oil on canvas, 41 x 41cm, 2016

oil on canvas, 51 x 51cm, 2016

Farm Between Colesberg and Philippolis, oil on canvas, 50 x 150cm

Koffiebus, Schoombee

Colesberg District (Yardley Farm)

oil on canvas, 70 x 70cm, 2021

oil on canvas, 70 x 70cm, 2021

Stormberg Near Steynsberg oil on canvas, 70 x 70cm, 2021

On the Road Between Fauresmith and Philippolis, watercolour, 29 x 76cm, 2016, framed

Imaginary Karoo #10, oil on canvas, 61 x 91cm, 2010, framed

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