Ryan Enslin goes on a deep dive into the emerging art world in Joburg, aided by copious cups of coffee for sustenance.
Here on the Rand, at 1 753 meters above sea level, it takes a full minute longer to boil an egg. Less dense air and all.
This once-upon-a-time mining camp doesn’t boast the sea or a mountain named after some arbitrary household item. There are no promenades to while away your Saturday morning as you sip on a flat white, or tidal pools to indulge the latest craze of cold water immersion. Although, when the electricity is off for long enough, your ‘hot’ tap could well become just such an instrument to enlightenment.
But I love living here. The thing is, you just have to dig a little deeper to find the beauty. It’s not that obvious, but it most certainly is here to be found, by those willing to look.
So when Open Studios Joburg was announced recently, I was in. And excited.
The concept of an open studio event is not a unique one, but Sara Hallatt, director of the META Foundation, has put a uniquely Joburg spin on it. In short, an open studio event sees artists opening their studio spaces to anyone who wants to take a look, but the event is usually limited to one artist building or residency. Sara dreamed bigger, and in the process conceptualised an event that would, over two days, bring together 110 artists, in eight separate locations across the City.
Ambitious; but when I met Sara for a chat a few days before the scheduled event, I quickly learnt that her passion for art and artist development is what drives her to think left of centre, and in the process, create something that has the potential to be phenomenal.
Along with the development of new and emerging artists, Sara also wants to introduce new audiences to the joy of art. ‘We don’t have a museum culture, so the young are not seeing art. Twenty years down the line when their tastes have evolved and they have disposable income, they won’t think of art as a viable option. If we want art, and our artists, to survive, we need an initiative like Open Studios Joburg,’ shared Sara with me, as we sit in the glorious winter sun in her gallery space in August House, an artist building in New Doornfontein.
Sara tells of the trend she has noted of people interested in art, but who know very little about it. And how to buy it. Hence her simultaneous drive to bring new audiences in, and educate them in the art of buying art, as it were. Open Studios Joburg has been designed as a visitor-centric event, which I take in that very weekend.
My art expedition around Joburg
The event is free and includes a complimentary shuttle service on both days to move you between the various locations. Using local tour operators and tour guides, Sara has ensured that you can move with ease and safety as you go about your art expedition. I attended the Sunday iteration.
My day started at Victoria Yards, a somewhat under-appreciated development in the city. Here, sculptor Robbie Rorich caught my attention with his work, particularly his piece Aeroplane Couple which he shared was inspired by thoughts of flight.
I spent some time chatting to him about various other works, impressed by the detailed thought process that underpinned each piece. This, I found, was the joy of Open Studios Joburg, access to the artist. And countless opportunities to engage with them about their work, and process.
While in the area
This stop being the start of my day, I decided to brunch at Victoria Yards. Foakes Coffee Roastery and Bakery have great coffee and a mouth-watering assortment of freshly baked items to spice up just such an occasion and provide energy for the day of art viewing ahead.
Find them at Space No 6H, not far from the entrance to Victoria Yards.
Located in New Doornfontein, a block or two up from the Ellis Park Stadium, August House is probably the largest artist building in South Africa, if not on the continent. Housing 44 artists, it is a smorgasbord of inspiration as you wander the four floors dedicated to art.
Friend and doodle artist Blcktagg now also calls the building home. He created the mural at The Playground and it was great to chat, catch up and see his new pieces. The first floor of the building had a showing of photographs from a series entitled Hijabs and Hoodies, which caught my attention, especially this image by Tracey Keza. I enjoyed the use of black and white photography which challenged me to look closer at the image, and what had been captured.
While in the area
The coffee bug had once again set in, so I decided to forego the complimentary shuttle to my next stop, Ellis House, and e-hailed (is that even a term?) to Home of the Bean in Maboneng. They use beans sourced from exotic locations including Burundi, Ethiopia and Costa Rica to make a fantastic cup of coffee. The uber-cool interior, with furniture from local outfit Houtlander, made for just the spot to take some time out from the art, and look through some of the images I had shot.
Find them at 264 Fox Street, Maboneng.
Just down the road you’ll find the Ellis House Art Building, for what would be my last intake of art inspiration. I found that there was so much to take in that you truly need the entire day to do it some semblance of justice.
At Ellis House, I was once again treated to art all around me. In the passages, in the studios. Everywhere. The artists were too many to mention and the inspiration was immense.
While in the area
Having come to the end of my art expedition, I decided a beer was in order and dropped in at the Troyville Roof Top Bar. This legendary space, which recently received some TLC, has stunning views over the city and is well known for its value for money Portuguese food. I couldn’t think of a better way to end a day so packed with inspiration.
Find them at 1403 Albertina Sisulu Road, Troyville.
As it turned out Open Studios Joburg was a huge success. Sara shared that, over the weekend, each venue was visited more than 3 200 times by those eager to seek out beauty, and sales exceeded R800 000. From my experience, Sara has most definitely ticked the box of bringing in a new audience into the art space.
I saw them before my very eyes, a wide variety of Joburgers actively seeking out beauty.
To learn more or attend the next Open Studios, keep an eye on META Foundation SA‘s social media.
Follow more of Ryan’s adventures in and around Joburg on Instagram.
Pictures: Ryan Enslin