A Living Canvas
It’s a modest house in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, with a simple, unprepossessing facade that, if anything, hints at suburban blandness. Yet once inside, you are assailed, then mesmerised and eventually intrigued by an energy that is both kinetic and serene, courtesy of the art that fills the walls.
Set against this extraordinarily abundant visual backdrop, punctuated here and there by first-rate artworks by Robert Hodgins, Willem Boshoff, Wayne Barker, Claudette Schreuders, and even a Roy Lichtenstein and an Ossip Zadkine, to name a few, the rest of the house takes on a spare, almost austere air bolstered by the simple colour scheme of white and wood, somewhere between gallery, library and monastery.
‘It gives the impression of being a very large house, but it’s not,’ says owner Fred Scott, a scientist who traded in his industrial and academic career for a position in the art industry. He explains that he and his wife, also an academic, moved to Johannesburg in 1983 from the area of the Eastern Cape formerly known as the Ciskei. ‘We originally chose this house because I wanted to be close to the university. I was teaching chemistry at the time.’
Art has nevertheless always interested the couple, becoming a full-blown passion when Fred retired from his scientific career. ‘I finally had the opportunity to indulge in it completely,’ he says. This affinity with art began in childhood, he recounts. ‘From infancy, I saw paintings on the walls. And you know, quite often as a kid you notice something and discuss it. For instance, you see a dog image in a painting and you attach yourself to it. And basically by just looking at it, the dog that you love, you get to see the perspective of the artist, his technique, his style.’
Fortunately, his wife shares his passion for art, most of which they tend to buy at auctions, galleries and from artists. ‘When I met Susan, she had already bought etchings and watercolours herself, which she liked. When we got married, we lived in France and Belgium for a few years, and it was always a great pastime for us to visit museums.’
There are times, however, that both husband and wife think that they may just have too much art. But he is quick to clarify that they are not hoarders. ‘There is a difference between collection and compulsion. Hoarding is a psychological condition while collecting is selective and aimed at aesthetic appreciation of quality and the pleasure of owning such collectable pieces, he says, while admitting that there are still several artworks neatly stacked against the wall and in the cupboards in a spare bedroom that are awaiting their moment in the spotlight.
‘We do tend to move things around because we want to appreciate the art that we have.’
The three-bedroom house, dating back to 1934, has seen very little change. ‘The walls have remained the same, except for one bedroom in which we knocked down a wall to make it more open, and we changed the doors in front to create a larger living room,’ Fred explains. In addition, they revamped the kitchen – which also houses some art – to modernise it. ‘We only took the pantry out, which was slap bang in the middle’ to make a cosy nook for breakfast and simple meals.
The floors have retained their beautiful original Oregon pine boards. The same lustrous wood is used extensively throughout the rest of the house for door frames and shelving, beams on the ceiling, dado panels and rails in the living and dining areas, and for cupboards and chests/bedside tables in the main bedroom.
The simple wood furniture came from ‘items we picked up mostly when we were living in the Ciskei,’ Fred says. ‘It was the period when the Ciskei became independent, and all the farmers had to sell out, and there were regular auctions all around.’ The finds include an upholstered sofa in a cherry-wood frame, a farmhouse-style dining table, chests and desks; all in all a neutral but warm canvas for the real art.
Originally published in HL April 2014