New Gallery Explores Intuitive African Art

Article excerpt


CLEMENTINA van der Walt and Albie Bailey are back in town. As has been their custom during the 10-year peregrination of their personal and professional partnership - from Paarl to the city bowl to Kalk Bay and now the city centre - they have set up home within walking distance of office.

"We bought into the whole concept of making the city a place to live in again. If you're going to buy into that philosophy, put your money where your mouth is," Bailey said.

So he and Van der Walt put their money into a New York-style loft apartment on Bree Street with bird's eye views of the city, and a gallery space on St George's Mall in a residential/commercial building, whose plate installations on the walls inspired the couple to track down the Paarl-based Red Hot Glass blowers and bring their pieces into the gallery.

Van der Walt and Bailey met in Paarl in 1997 at the opening of Bailey's first gallery. She was producing a painted tableware range, which three years ago she sold to The Africa CafA[c], and he, a photographer and jazz club owner and former mathematics teacher, was philanthropically involved in an art group called Embizweni.

"I was having a breakdown. I couldn't stand the production side of the studio," Van der Walt said. "I didn't want to be a business person. I wanted to be a maker." And so Bailey gradually took over the management of the production studio, eventually buying a 50% stake in it.

A stint by the seaside in a "watered-down" Herbert Baker-inspired house with exposed wooden beams, a deep verandah and sweeping views of the ocean, led to the opening of a gallery on the Kalk Bay main drag, as well as an inter-leading coffee shop which Bailey bought with two partners to double as a photography gallery.

It was the light and colour that drove them away. "The sun goes down at noon in winter. There would be an eclipse over the house. Then last year I went to Johannesburg for two months in winter. I just loved the light, the sun. I wanted to move to Johannesburg. Luckily Albie was more sane than me," Van der Walt said.

That's when they had a chat about what they liked about Cape Town and decided a move back to the city was in order. "We're quite affected by the energies of a place. There's more energy here. People are on a mission. Kalk Bay is a very special place but it's quite sleepy. There's a golden light in the city. The light in Kalk Bay is more blue. I grew up in Johannesburg with bright colours. I never related to that greyish-blueish colour. I found it really depressing. I don't want to sound ungrateful as it's beautiful there, but I can feel now how much I missed the sun. …