Art and Travel, a stumbled upon gallery and exhibition in South Africa /Infinity Gallery Nieu Bethesda Karoo South Africa, December 2018

Have you ever been to the dry, barren, scrubby land of the Karoo— the Karoo, where your eyes smart in the burnt haze of the skyline, where the grass happens in little tufts and mounds, where the sheep wander for miles looking for the trickle of underground water which springs to the surface in odd little places in desert land, this trickle which the locals call a river. The Karoo is slap bang in the middle of South Africa—South Africa, a land of many different geographical areas, a country filled with at least three different climates and landscapes. In the southwest you have the beauty of the Cape, warm, dry but windy summers, oceans so cold the ice swimmers like to huddle there; in the East the hot humid region of Natal, where in summer you have to take a midday shower; in the North first you hit the Highveld, the city of Johannesburg, vibrant, bustling and full of creativity where the summers are hot and dry but where the 6 o’clock rains fall accompanied by an orchestra of thunder and lightning, when the earth is soaked and the flowers and trees thank you with their sheer beauty and brilliance, where the jacarandas in Pretoria flaunt their purple blossoms for all to see as they line the streets of the city. I digress though, the region I want to take you to is THE KAROO—home of the Nguni cattle, speckled and strong; the Karoo bastion of the sheep, wanderers and grazers, always with the other beasts lurking, the jackal and the wild dog just waiting to pounce. The skies are always pristine, electric, hazy and transparent, the sapphirine scattered with the open wings of the soaring birds of prey. It is ‘the land of thirst’ as it’s Khoisan name whispers.

It is here in the beauty of the Karoo that I found the Infinity Art Gallery, in a small town called Nieu Bethesda. A small, traditionally Afrikaans,’ dorpie ‘which found it’s fame and notoriety thanks to an Outsider artist, Helen Martins who lived there in the 1960s and created her lifetime masterpiece, The Owl House. I was on my way to visit this museum, meandering through the dusty streets of this little town, streets which host many offshoots from the fame of the Owl House. Little quirky restaurants, the corner caff, small galleries, retreat centres and small tented shops where the locals are making and selling their very own owls made in the style and manner of the late Miss Helen (as she was lovingly referred to by the locals).

We were instantly drawn into the bright welcoming space of The Infinity Gallery. Here a local artist, Dirkje Daling was hosting an exhibition of her work. Dirkje was born in CapeTown in 1975. After finishing school, she attended Stellenbosch University to study B.Music, but after first year she changed to B.Sc Maths, qualifying in 1998. She worked for two years in the realm of the maths aura but must’ve felt the pull of art and creativity too strong so decided in 2001 to go into arts full time.
“Dirkje enjoys painting images and ideas from her perspective on life. Images that express freedom and playfulness, combined with more serious subject matter. She works mostly in oils and also enjoys experimenting with installation art as well as combining music in her work. She likes to invite the viewer into her world by viewing her art.”

On walking into the gallery this ‘enjoyment’ in the art was abundantly evident. From the entrance door you are met with the back of an old and happy piano which was flanked by stone lions, resting in pose. An origami display of flying birds circled the piano and the lions. Immediately you felt like engaging with the exhibition, which is exactly what the artist asked us to do with an installation on the left wall. The wall was covered with a long strip of tracing paper with pictures of birds and butterflies underneath, fuzzily visible. In the middle of the wall, a little back from it, stood a lectern with a note on it from the artist. She explained that you as the viewer could trace over the images of the flying creatures as a little nod to the memory of all the birds and butterflies she has felt a sadness at inadvertently killing as she whizzes (and as we do the same) along the roads in her car. Of course my friend and I jumped at the chance and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the art.

The other art on the walls was varied in style and subject matter. A picture I particularly liked, Higher( which was sold, safe was the bank balance) , was an oil of a young girl, jumping in the air,her legs springing out and up, she seemed to be floating, full of movement and fun. Some other installations were mixed media depictions of things in nature using shards of pottery and oils and feathers. One of her previous exhibitions was a study of flight and shadows. Evident in all the art was a love of nature and family. We met the artist in the gallery and I mentioned the variety in the exhibits and the totally different styles and she said she had been admonished about this by a gallerist many years previously who said her work looked like it was done by many different artists, the gallerist did not approve. Well I say bully to controlling the artist and let their creativity run amok, I loved the openness, exuberance and sheer diversity of this exhibition and the lovely little gallery space. So if you are ever in the Karoo you know where to go…..

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