Contemplating winter in Clarens is a confusing business. Gaze out of the windows and the blue skies stretch to infinity while the sun butters the rolling mountains with awesome hues of khaki and gold. Gorgeous. Until you step outside and freeze where you stand. Such is the social meteorology of our mountain perch, but I wax a trifle too lyrical perhaps. In short, it looks brilliant out but don’t plan on spending too much time galloping about in it. That is, after all, why God’s great plan includes breweries, restaurants and guest houses with large, roaring fires.
Which brings me, via a complex and tangential route, to painting by numbers. You’ve seen them; of course you have. The concept is simple: Some small Korean person makes a neat line drawing of, say, London Bridge or a bowl of Carnations, and carefully numbers each and every little piece of it, circumscribed by a clear and uncompromising line. The number concerned matches, assuming you bought the right set, a collection of paints which – when carefully applied to the corresponding space on the paper or canvas – produce a pleasing (though sometimes puzzling) outcome. As a new-borne artist, you will almost certainly leave the result in your will to some thoroughly undeserving member of your intimate family, and never do another one.
Which got me to thinking. What if Clarens got hold of the idea to invigorate its burgeoning but largely idle artist population? The concept has endless possibilities. For example, the village landscape could be deconstructed to allow a lucky tourist buyer to paint all the dirt roads a crisp tarmacadam grey (with perhaps a touch of ivory white (No. 2) and magenta (No.9) to highlight the speed-bumps) to attract more unsuspecting Ferraris and Lambos. The entire square could be turned into the Hanging Gardens of Dihlabeng with a little care, accented (isn’t that a bit twee? – Editor) with subtle shades of alizarin red (No. 14) and cadmium yellow (No. 16). Some neat brush strokes and a little calligraphy might change the village shop-fronts for the better: Imagine, if you will, every restaurant sign proclaiming ‘Affordable Prices; Great Service; Trained Chef’ and, of course, ‘Free French Champagne and Irish Oysters’.
And what if the lucky tourist buyer found his/her No. 2 Sable brush, and scooped up a load of rose madder (No.26) to paint smiles on the faces of all our policemen, as they bow and scrape their way about the village, assisting tourists in their enquiries and guiding their shiny new, dust-free cars into unlimited parking spots? Imagine. It doesn’t have to stop at the village precincts, of course: What if the new-borne artist sweeps around to encompass the Golf Estate in its perfect harmony with nature? Well, okay, maybe not. But that could be changed in the flick of a palette knife – imagine taking out the clutter of nine-storey villas on the mountain ridge and replacing them with elegant dwellings of style and flair, tucked unobtrusively into the slope. Imagine, if you will, losing every second house entirely to provide landscaped gardens (sap green,No.31; chrome green, No.14; and yellow ochre, No.47) and a great big sign over the entrance gate saying, in an educated hand, ‘Estate Sold Out’ (post-box red, No.5). How nice would that be?
For the more anally-retentive artist, intent on capturing the human condition, there could be small sets with highly detailed renderings of happy village families hugging one-another on receipt of massive tax rebates, notices of rates reductions or posters announcing bi-weekly beer festivals. And, for the avaricious guest house owners amongst you, a giant landscape of the Clarens Nek featuring a 12-sheet billboard simply proclaiming ‘Weather Perfect; ALL Accommodation Full Until 2045. Sorry!!’