Being a teacher, Brendan Bell found his first art job as Educational Officer at the Tatham Gallery in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, refreshing and incredibly inspiring. ‘The work gave me scope to broaden my knowledge and experience of art history and education practice,’ says Brendan. After years of teaching and a brief stint managing the family pig farm, he finally returned to the art world in 1992 as director at the Tatham Gallery, quipping, ‘if you can manage pigs, you’ll have no problem managing people!’ Of his personal art preferences, he admits to having an ‘eclectic, sometimes even bizarre’ taste. ‘I don’t apologise for that,’ he says. We asked Brendan… What art would you buy with R5 000? One of Ian Calder’s ‘Battle Hill’ series of vases on stands. They are ceramics of the highest order. The vases depict various flora and landscape images of KwaZulu-Natal. The stands are inspired by carved wooden bases for Chinese vessels he saw with a group of students on a visit to the Tatham Art Gallery ceramic store. R10 000? I would commission Mhari Pattenden, a young KZN ceramist, to make me a series of her ceramic-handled walking sticks. The walking sticks are a mixture of traditional European and Zulu – the handles a series of ceramic bird and small animal skulls. R50 000? A painting by David Koloane similar to ‘Moonlight and Roses’ in the Tatham Art Gallery collection. R500 000? Fiona Kirkwood’s ‘Radiated’. A courageous fibre artist from KZN, this work is technically brilliant, insanely beautiful, and a moving commentary on the contamination of our natural environment. I have no idea of its price, but I’d put my money on it. R1 000 000? I would put this amount towards purchasing ‘The African Crucifixion’, a magnificent beaded panel by Ubuhle Beads based in the KZN Midlands. It is currently on show at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, and I would like to see it owned by and safely housed in South Africa. Which one artwork do you regret not buying? One of Andries Botha’s large steel and wood elephants to place outside the front façade of the Tatham Art Gallery. What one artist’s work should our readers buy right now? Siyabonga Sikosana, a young Pietermaritzburg artist who paints his township environment in a unique way – competently, with irony, and humour. They are definitely not your typical ‘township’ scenes. I predict he will go far. What artwork do you wish you had bought 10 years ago? Not quite 10 years ago a very beautiful Frieda Locke landscape sold on auction in Johannesburg for R140 000. By the time I saw it saw it in a Johannesburg commercial gallery about a year later, the price tag was in the region of R900 000! Artists you’ve got your eye on? Lyndi Sales. Her installations are sensational. Hussein Salim, a Sudanese painter living and working in Pietermaritzburg. I really admire his refined sense of colour, texture and pattern. Vulindlela Nyoni. His print technique is superb, his drawing spot-on. Who is currently seriously big on the local art scene? Hasan and Husain Essop. I am delighted they are the Standard Bank Young visual artists for 2014. Their photography is brilliant, as is their ability to engage viewers of different faiths in the deeply embedded, and often, inaccessible rituals related to Islam. Which local artists are doing well on the international market at the moment? So many – both living and deceased! What does that tell us? There’s a huge interest in South African art – traditional and contemporary. Which means the international market is prepared to pay premium for what South Africa has to offer. I’d like to believe it’s not only about investment potential. What’s your favourite piece of art in your own home? A painting by KZN artist Terrence Patrick of a voluptuous reclining black odalisque seemingly unaware of the polite and correct white cleric holding a cup of tea in the background. What would you buy now for investment purposes? A really good Irma Stern portrait of a Malay woman, something like ‘The Flower Seller’ in the Tatham Art Gallery collection. And because you love it? Bonginkosi Ngcobo’s ‘Cup of Tea’. I find his naivety and humour irresistible. Is there a dominant theme in current local art? Artists are trying to make sense of how, why and where they are positioned as individuals in this new society we are creating. Mary Sibande is a good example of a female artist grappling with her present and future in relation to her family history. Who is your favourite contemporary local artist? Widus Mtshali, also a KZN artist, whom many would consider a crafter. And great South African master? I’d like to introduce a new South African master, Diamond Bozas. His retrospective show currently showing at the Tatham Art Gallery is a tour-de-force. At 90 years old he is an extraordinary man, has lived an extraordinary life, and is a very fine painter. He lives and continues to work and teach in Zululand. What is your all-time favourite artwork and artist? I was literally struck dumb by the shimmering luminosity of Seurat’s huge ‘Bathers at Asnières’ in the National Gallery, London. *A shortened version of this interview appears in the June 2014 issue of House and Leisure.