Moments of joy, found on a wall

Cat On A Warm African Night

Cape Town – A long time ago I bought a painting.

It was hanging in a small shop in Muizenberg village, and was called Cat On A Warm African Night. I fell in love with it instantly but it cost R850, a great deal of money at the time. I hummed and hawed but I had to have it. Eventually I bought it (all this time later I can’t remember where I found the money as it was certainly before I had a credit card). It has hung on the wall of all the places I have lived since, casting its benevolent gaze over my life. Every time I see it, my spirit lifts.

Last weekend, I bought another painting.

The aloe painting

It was hanging on the wall of The Gallery in Riebeek Kasteel, and depicted an aloe. I have a minor obsession with aloes, and I fell in love with it instantly. I was interviewing The Gallery’s owner, Astrid McLeod and told her it was my favourite among the art on her walls. She smiled and said it was a print of one of her own paintings. I went away, thought about it a bit, came back and gave her several thousand rand (this time, I do have a credit card. I plan to pay myself back). I really shouldn’t have spent money I don’t have on something as frivolous as a painting but I just know that it will lift my spirits like my mystical cat painting. I also know that in 20 years time I will not remember how I raised the money to buy it – but I will still love the aloe.

The thing is I know nothing about art. There is an artistic gene in my family, but I did not get it. Just as I can’t hear what people mean when they say something is out of tune, I can stare at a great work of art and feel only slight boredom.

I have been taken around art galleries by my sister (who did get the gene) but all I really wanted was to sit down and have a coffee. Nothing on a wall has ever made me feel the way reading Shakespeare or Robert Frost or Jane Austen makes me feel.

But the two paintings I have bought make me feel happy, even though they may not be great art (or they may be… I have no way of knowing). They make me feel the same way my kitchen table makes me feel” brightened by beauty.

The table, which is the centre of our family life, was also a financial stretch when I spotted it in a shop in Koeberg Road. But I had to have it.

Common sense would say it is foolish to spend money on objects which have no practical value or which you could find much cheaper at Makro. And buying art when you are deeply ignorant about it seems really foolish.

But sometimes common sense needs to be put firmly away. Where would artists or furniture makers be if we applied financial prudence all the time? And what would my life be without my cat and my aloe and my table? Just a little less joyful, I think. And that would make me much poorer than if I had held on to the money.

  • This column was first published on IOL.