The coffee machine gurgled- percolating whisps of that sweet aromatic salvation into the Autumn air; the strong, dark-roast kind of salvation needed for afternoons of focus in the studio. The brew rose up and curled around the subtle scent of linseed oil, paint and wood. We were a few solid minutes into our second session of the afternoon, separately and collectively engrossed in our own miniature worlds that lay before us through canvas voids. Neatly propped, at various stages of incarnation. A small factory of Gods at work- creating faces, ears and knees with mere whips of or Raw Umber or Naples Yellow. Toiling with the muddy slurries of colored toothpaste-like globs at the end of our brushes, palettes smudged with messy pools of pigments held tentatively like newborns in our hands. Closer to our hearts.
It was then that a distant thunder cloud let out a long rolling grumble which started somewhere between bumping droplets of water in the sky and rumbled down the valley and up to the 3rd floor of the studio as if the Gods were playing ten pin bowling above our heads. Tahira, a middle-aged artist from Pakistan, let out a childlike squeal of excitement. We were all wrenched from the infinite intricacies of our construction to gaze upward as if by some chance the heavens would open up and rain would gush down directly onto our laps. Even Adam, our figure model, stole a moment to break from his resolute statuesque casing to peak upward in wide-eyed anticipation. It was these involuntary actions of juvenile excitement and an unexplainable enthusiasm for the preceding weather phenomena that sparked off some memories I hadn’t entertained for a long time. The feeling of electric energy that would corse through my body as a child when large Summer storms would thunder down onto the inland plateau of the Highveld in the afternoons when we lived in Pretoria, or of driving through the night to get to the Greenhouse in Kaysers Beach as the rain fell along the N2.
There are few things I believe that root us as immediately to our present moments as a storm. Writing or journaling and listen to certain music can function in much the same way, but while these at least are usually slotted into manageable timeframes in a human’s busy life: hail storms, snow storms and lighting storms are not. They have absolutely no respect for the day of week, time of day or month of the year. They are the rebels of the stratosphere and they have a wonderfully manic way of reminding us, by force sometimes, to pause in the rush of our daily routines- sticking us in inner-city traffic jams, unable to leave the house or having to call across town to reschedule a meeting that- whether we believe it or not- will not cause the absolute end to our careers. Sometimes sporadically stranding strangers together in corner coffee shops or bundling crowds under bus stations, storms have a way of simply bringing us together as much as they keep us apart. They always seem to announce themselves at just the right time of the day, when I am secretly tired and overworked but unyielding to circumstance and really just do need to sit with a warm porcelain cup of something delicious and watch drops of water stream down panes of glass.
I remember taking long road trips with my family from Gauteng down to the Eastern Cape for December holidays like we used to do every year. Those road trips are some of the shiniest pieces of treasures I keep in my treasure box. They taste like a Wimpy cheeseburger and hot Milo. They sound like general knowledge quizz clues and Roy Orbison. They smell like biltong and the hypnotic smack of petrol-stained concrete floors at gas stations. They looked like the landscape paintings of South African countryside and small towns, blurred in a perpetual motion. And most of all they make me feel really (really) happy and adventurous when it rains.
My sisters and I would fall asleep in our beds with our bags packed in the car or waiting outside our bedroom doors and my father would come along sometime between midnight and 3am to scoop us up in our dreamy slumbers and deliver us into the back of the car which we had transformed into a puffy cocoon of travel. I wouldn’t know the journey had even started until I would wake up in a half-daze, wrapped like a dolmade in blankets and pillows and wedged somewhere between my brothers left elbow and a suitcase to sight of the back car window sprayed with bright pink droplets of water. The rear red lights on the Landcruiser would reflect onto the large white trailer at night which would in turn spray an incandescent pink glow over the streaming rain. The rain which had started falling to Earth long before us kids even knew we had left the comfort of our beds at home and were careering forward, ever-closer to the beach.
I could sit there and watch the rain drops trickle down like hungry Pink Pacmen, devouring smaller droplets in their spastic paths from the top to the bottom of the large window ( sometimes sliding diagonally when we took a corner ) and being smeared into sticky nothingness patterns somewhere midway on the journey by the arm of the wipers. That nighttime soundtrack composed of slushing pools of water between the tyres and the tarmac punctuated with the smooth mechanic heartbeat of the window wipers and over-toned with a million little claps of water hitting the car roof above our heads - has been the only successful song that has been able to lull me into the deepest sleep, even when I saw the sky outside slowly starting to turn violet. It was maybe that. Or more likely it was the knowledge that in that warm igloo of metal cruising through the rainy darkness, I had the most important people who I loved so dearly stuck in a 3 meter radius for the next couple of hours… and only the youngest child of a big energetic family can truly know what that feels like.
I have two weeks left in Argenton at Studio Escalier and I am going to make so much hay while the sun either shines, or peaks glances through silver afternoon rain clouds.