WILLEM doesn't Zoom. I have to call him. Impactful experience characterises his voice, like his work.
“I never know where my phone is. Sometimes I hear a tune playing. I ask the children about the ringing. Then one says, ‘Duh, Dad, your phone!'" His wife, Linda, mother of their eight children, manages his communications and social media.
It's midday. Sorry to bother you. He laughs.
“I don't live conventionally like society. Last night I painted until 1.30. This morning our son, Beaufort, grade 8, binoculars around his neck. He was up at 5am, went to the dam for sunrise and birdwatching; his tracker shows he walked 8.4km. I've done bugger all today; the windmill is running, so I'm irrigating. I plant 20 trees every year, bugger all actually wants to grow here… Rosendal has short summers and terrible winters."
They live on 6,000m²; two adjacent plots without a boundary wire. “Our house is a century old… if we were to leave for a year and then come back, this would be in ruins. We just keep things from falling apart."
I giggle like a teenybopper while he steams on. Pretorius grins. “We challenge friends and family with our lifestyle. Some of them have palaces in tree-lined suburbs. I shudder to think that I have to own something like this, and suddenly you are 70. No, I have a good life in my building full of coal stoves on the red Free State soil among tall trees with their fiery autumn colours."
Van der Stel wasn’t here
The Pretorius family has lived in Rosendal for 17 years. “We were in a small house in Pretoria with two little ones. Linda worked in a flower shop, I fixed furniture. This would be for life. Maybe a better job, bigger house and bigger car, maybe another baby. The cycle that everyone on the N1 is chasing. Then we decided it was now or never. We looked at the countryside and agreed on Rosendal. We wanted to stay here, live cheaper and paint full-time.
“The town was planned in 1912, but it's uncool because Simon van der Stel didn't walk around here. It's just far enough for bikers to miss it. I respect bikers, and their money is valuable to a town's economy… but once a town gets a mall, it loses character. Now people will get mad at me."
Rosendal lies in a valley. “What I like is that our house is high-lying. When I look south, the mountains are my horizon, 4km away. North, towards Paul Roux, I see mountains 6km away. When the weather is brewing in Lesotho, it turns pitch black and the wind picks up. Then the children rush out to place stones on this zinc roof so that it doesn't blow away.
“There is elbow room in this place. You don't bother the neighbours when they build a Tuscan wonder. They leave me when I plant lots of trees. Rosendal consists of about 10 worlds. Tonight we're going to karaoke at Jolla's in his two-tone khaki clothes; tomorrow we're celebrating two gay women's wedding. Here, poor, rich, retirees, young people, gay, straight, everyone is accepted. We meet in the bar.
“But we are privileged. The condition of the roads here is appalling. Rosendal's currency is water, trees and what tyres and ground clearance your car has. But my family's experience of Rosendal is drastically different from the guys who live opposite us in shacks. Yes, South Africa has crime and challenges, but it offers adventure and opportunities. If you want to start a business, you rent a piece of land or a building and go wild. In Europe, impact studies first have to be carried out and processes launched in order to obtain a licence."
Eight children between 20 and six years old (including twins). How did that happen?
“We have buddies in all weight classes! It's a numbers game. The night before yesterday we ate a kilogram of spaghetti and R200 worth of mincemeat. The next day, after a spit roast, the hosts donated a quarter of a sheep to us. I cut it up and filled two baking pans, put it in the Aga and roasted it overnight. The next morning I woke up at 5am. There was only enough meat left to make a sandwich."
“We buy four litres of farm milk every day, 36 eggs every other day. And they all drink borehole water.
“When we drive to Pretoria, I hook a trailer to our Kombi carrying eight mattresses, bags and 30 pairs of shoes. A major operation. I like to stop along the way to reference. ‘Now Dad wants to go bundu-bashing for 300m to photograph something again.' We encourage the children to do their own thing. Everyone has access to the internet, I am the only one who is not technologically advanced. We have an inverter for full-time internet."
I see you, although you’re gone
Pretorius's landscapes speak of rural reality. Transience. “Art broadens the viewer's experiential reality. Someone's hand created this. Walter Meyer, one of my art icons, said the landscape is crueller than it appears. Each painting is a self-portrait. That's where I stopped. I tell the bygone object: I see you, even if you are gone."
♦ VWB ♦
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