Pendock Wine Gallery @ Taj


Simon Stone, the king of colour, has given me kind permission to use his Bacchus image (below) for the Wine Gallery we’re opening at the Taj Hotel this spring. We’ve already signed up Pieter Ferreira, Grant Dodd, Juan Louw and Caroline Snyman as curators and SA fine wine and brandy will never be the same again.


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I opened Simon’s retrospective exhibition at the Standard Bank Gallery in Johannesburg last week and also wrote the forward to the catalogue which I reproduce below.

1000 words for Simon Stone

The cliché estimates that one picture is worth 1000 words. So the heart of Simon’s oeuvre, 87 sketch books, each of 500 pages, contain a minimum of 43,500 doodles, cartoons, sketches and washes. The equivalent of 43.5 million words, all produced since 1983. At the Sunday Times rate of R3 each, that’s over R130 million. No wonder this retrospective is being held in a bank.

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Such prolixity is quite ironic because the first paintings Simon ever gave me was a detail of the Johannes Vermeer Girl with a Peal Earring, long before Peter Webber made the film. Vermeer painted less than 40, and some are probably fakes.

I met Simon a quarter of a century and half a lifetime ago at 16 Johannes (Vermeer, not) Street in Troyeville. The house turned out to be the birthplace of playwright Barney Simon as we found out one evening, when he knocked on the door.

It was down the hill from the ‘orrible (Oribi) Hotel and a couple of streets up from the Portuguese social club Two Plus One, scene of many peri-peri chickens served by Leaping Lizard, exotic waitress from Mozambique. We were introduced by journalist Anthea Bristowe who said I needed some colour at home and Simon was the best colourist in town. She was not wrong.

Troyeville was BoHo central back then. Robert Weinek of AfrikaBurn fame ran an eponymous bar called Bob’s and Braam Kruger a restaurant in a former pet shop where that waitress from hell, Veronique Malherbe, would moer patrons and tell them to “fuck off back to Sandton” when they complained of slow service, as they invariably did.

Dr. David Webster lived a couple of streets away before he was murdered by agents of the state (planned over brandies and cokes at the ‘orrible) and for pizzas we’d go to Tre Gatti opposite the Troyeville Hotel, owned by aunt-in-law Theresa and her partner Eddie, also murdered by robbers. A couple of times we went to father-in-law’s restaurant in Krugersdorp before he too was murdered.

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Those were the days of political train massacres in the suburbs, between Jeppe and Denver stations, that he captured in a brutal encaustic [reference] now on my wall in Killarney. Days when hardboiled neighbours walked past the house, calling their children “animosities” and we’d scare ourselves watching Twin Peaks on SABC TV. The spirit of Gandhi who once lived around the corner, had clearly departed.

Seventeen years in Johannesburg are the beating heart of Simon’s career. His only real collaboration – if you ignore the fire paintings he did with Patrick Rourke – was with Braam. The pair hired a flat in Quartz Street in the heart of Hillbrow and would watch the Johns wanking in their cars, too cheap to pay prostitutes, while the pair worked on the same canvas with enamel house paint. Leonard Cohen would have killed for such material. Leonard was a favourite of the old cassette player hanging from a nail in his studio, along with Blood on the Tracks.

“Things move very fast when you both work on the same painting. I’d paint over his monsters and he’d paint over mine.” The duo held two exhibitions although what became of the collaboration paintings and the monsters that survived, is a mystery. Simon has one.

It was also the time and place of his first mosaic. “The house had this sad west-facing wall next to the garage behind the almond tree and with [daughter] Lizzie on the way, I wanted to chirp up the garden for her.” Having seen a mosaic by Clive van den Berg in Durban, he realized mosaics had traction. The mosaic fountain outside Willoughby’s in the Hyde Park shopping centre must be the most viewed of his works. Herculaneum comes to Hyde Park.

And Parktown West, after he completed No Talking on my stoep. Everard Read liked it a lot. Now while they often look very European, Simon’s mosaics are intensely personal and African. A fact he comments on after spending a Sabbatical at Jack Ginsberg’s Ampersand apartment in Manhattan before the Twin Towers collapsed.

“New York taught me how African I am.” He’s not alone, as after a second visit to the Big Apple winding up the Guggenheim central ramp he recalls “there was this William Kentridge video playing with his characters in their grey suits which look so European in SA but so African in New York.”

Many of Simon’s archetypes are unmistakably urban: al fresco hawker stalls with single cigarettes and a mound of Chappies and glacé mints, sidelong glances, lipstick traces. Oil on old etching plates from Wits were a favourite medium and he’d frame them in blond wood, himself.

“If I had to choose one artist whose work was the only art I saw for the rest of my life, it would be William Turner.” So what a pity then that Ruskin destroyed all the risqué stuff in a bonfire after Turner hopped the twig. “Not all. I recently came across a slim volume of Turner’s erotic art and was very pleased to find it.” Confirming the erotic charge of many works and their flirty sinuous curves.

“More songs about buildings and food” was the title of the breakthrough LP for the Talking Heads and buildings star in many pictures. In fact as a small child he once cut himself on the corner of his house. When the family upsticksed to Knysna, fishermen’s sinkers joined the cast and Karoo landscapes had their turn after the purchase of a house in Aberdeen for R25,000.

“Eventually I used up the landscape” he remembers and after five years, he moved on, today preferring B&Bs and self-catered flats for economy and variety.

“I was recently in Murraysburg between Beaufort West and Graaff-Reinet. A great place but I struggled to get going until a wasp stung me. But at least it was better inspiration than Norman Catherine’s electrician, who fell off a ladder and then started painting like Norman.”

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An average of four sketches a day is a whole swarm of wasps, buzzing around waiting to be born. If Leonard has his Tower of Song supporting him well into his seventies, Simon has Volumes of Wasps, a buzzing limbo of persistent images awaiting reincarnation as paintings. As Simon opens a fourth decade of sketchbooks, the paint is far from dry on the career of a profound painter of private glimpses, drive-by landscapes and the sharp edges of houses.