houses, luxury

The Art of Living

Text Graham Wood Styling Leana Schoeman Photographs Elsa Young Although conservation architect Minky Lidchi has owned her Jo’burg home for decades, she moved in just six years ago after living in a flat while renting it out. It was the first renovation Minky ever undertook, as a first-year architecture student in 1976. Of her belated occupancy, she says she wanted dogs and the feeling of grass underfoot – which she now has in abundance. A sprawling garden dotted with sculptures and other intriguing pieces is one of the most notable aspects of the property. Along with Minky’s art collection, that is. There is something profoundly democratic about her approach to art objects. Everyday utensils are elevated to the level of art; artworks are given a place above the kitchen counter. Minky’s screwdrivers come from New York’s MoMA, but her favourite artwork, picked up at a school fête many years ago, is a brown cardboard sculpture of a woman, the identity of the artist long forgotten. That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some stiff competition: Minky’s collection features some of South Africa’s biggest names, including Walter Battiss, William Kentridge, Deborah Bell and an abundance of works by Norman Catherine. She hasn’t limited herself to local work, either. Over the years she’s brought home most of the eclectic furniture, art and ornaments that adorn her shelves, surfaces and walls from North Africa, the Far East, India, Mexico and the Mediterranean. The abundance of pieces reflects anything but a materialistic nature. ‘You never really own anything,’ says Minky. ‘You only ever keep it for a while. Although I am attached to everything here, I see it all as temporary.’ She says she simply wants to be surrounded by beautiful things, fond reminders or inspirational objects. Besides, it’s in the nature of any true collection that it represents something bigger and more lasting than its owner. Minky has a special affinity for handmade things – vessels and chairs especially. ‘I am drawn to things you use – everyday things that make a difference,’ she says. Everywhere there are baskets, bowls, pans, Gypsy cooking pots on the marble table outside, hand-carved sandstone plant pots on the stoep ... what she calls ‘real objects’ made from materials such as metal, stone, wood or bamboo. Nothing is too humble to be beautiful. ‘I don’t need labels to tell me what art is,’ says Minky. ‘Besides, you can always tell when something has been made by a true artist rather than a mere journeyman. It appeals to your eye in a different way. You just have to be visually and tactilely aware.’ Minky’s fondness for functional art segues into an interest in pieces that serve as spiritual symbols and figures. A Nepalese prayer bell hangs above a door; a verdigris-tinged side table is in fact a rain drum from Thailand; buddhas from Burma, China and Bali meditate on every surface; Senufo birds with swollen bellies find cosy nooks. Other wood, sandstone and ceramic sculptures, peeping from the tops of pillars in the garden, or under shelves and chests in the house, suggest dark underworlds and ancient utopias. It’s hardly an imaginative leap from these to the fantastical forms in works by Walter Battiss and the mythical sensibility of Deborah Bell. A kind of continuity and loose unity governs Minky’s inclusive aesthetic. High meets low, near meets far, object is artefact, and they rub shoulders under her broad definition of art. Minky might have gone to the ends of the earth to assemble her collection of furniture and art but, together, all the pieces constitute a home.

MINKY’S HOME TRUTHS

  • My rule for living with art is, really love it, whatever it is.
  • Style is having a real sense of what resonates with you personally and choosing to live with those objects whatever they may be.
  • I’m inspired by the diversity of nature, culture, human ability and sensibility. Vernacular buildings particularly inspire me – the materials, climate, environs and culture that dictate Cape Dutch and Ndebele homesteads, Thai timber houses, Moroccan riads and South Indian courtyard houses. But I also get wowed by modern architecture – recently the de Young museum in San Francisco.
  • What I love most about living where I do is having grass under my feet every day, and having the freedom and space to vary my experience and lifestyle within my home and garden.
  • My favourite space is the uncovered patio between the garden and the house; it’s the transition between the two – the air, the space, the sounds and the views.
  • My most treasured artwork is a painting by my mother of my grandfather.
  • The place I find most inspiring is India.
  • My favourite getaway is France for an injection of culture and energy, and my house in Koringberg for peace and reflection.
  • The artist I’m watching is Catrina Comrie.
This article was originally published in the April 2010 issue of House and Leisure.