The Art of Wine

Ever wanted to start your own art collection but just can’t afford original artworks? Well the SPIER ARTS ACADEMY has made sure you can, with its Creative Block art project, started in 2004. At R1 200 per block, it’s one way to get started on an art collection or to extend what you already have with fresh talent or even a distinguished name.

The project invites artists, both established and emerging, to create work on a small block (18cm x 18cm x 2,2cm). The blocks are curated by Jeanetta Blignaut, the mastermind behind the Creative Block. Chosen blocks are then bought from the artist and sold to collectors worldwide.

Each artwork—original and unique—is sold at the set, affordable price of only R1 200. The initiative has achieved cult-like status, and masses of artists congregate on a weekly basis at the company’s base in Cape Town to deliver their completed blocks and study each other’s creations.

You might think that because artists are required to work within the confines of a fixed format the blocks lack artistic credibility. The truth is it is actually fascinating to examine how each individual artist approaches the square format, and how each makes the block a unique piece of personal expression. When viewed in large numbers, these blocks form a mesmerising mosaic of various styles and techniques. Collectors who buy a number of blocks and hang them together can actually build a larger artwork that is greater than the sum of its parts.

This issue’s cover showcases a block by NomThunzi Mashalaba. NomThunzi studied Fine Art at Tshwane University of Technology and graduated in 2006. She makes use of a variety of media including printmaking, painting and sculpture. There’s a lot of personal narrative in her work, so we asked her a few questions.

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You explore personal stories in your art. Doesn’t this make you feel very exposed?

I’ve focused on personal stories for the past five years. It’s the atmosphere I dive into. I try to be impartial as much as I can. Sometimes it’s difficult because it’s self-scrutiny on one hand while being completely honest on the other. 

Did you know from a young age you wanted to be an artist, and to make it your career?

I was creative from the get go, but didn’t think of it as a career until much later. After matric it became a possibility and I just went for it. And I’ve never looked back. I’ve been lucky to have help and support from friends and family all the way.

What was it like exhibiting your first show? 

My first exhibition was just before I went to TUT for training. I was very nervous, and excited. I was the youngest participant in a group show— it was the 1999 summer show at the Lion House in McGregor.    

What made you get involved with the Spier Creative Block project?

My first introduction was when I moved to Cape Town in 2009. A number of my contemporaries were part of the project, and so it seemed to be a natural exploration for me too. It also became a great way of making myself known in the city. 

Have you had a good response from being a part of it?

Definitely. I’ve already had two solo shows in Cape Town.  

What is it like working on such a small canvas, compared to your other larger-scale works?

At first it was challenging. Then as time went by the perspective became significant, and useful too, as it developed interesting concepts for my large-scale works. 

Do you have an exhibition coming up soon, or is there a current one we can visit? 

There will be a new one towards the end of this year, or early next year, in association with Blank Projects. The dates haven’t been finalised yet.

NomThunzi lives in Cape Town where she has found the food to be an amazing exploration. Her website www.nomthunzimashalaba.co.za  will be live soon, but for previous artworks and exhibitions go to www.blankprojects.com/1205-nomthunzi-mashalaba.php

More About the Wines

Spier Cellar Master, Frans Smit, recognises the synergy between this project and the process of blending wine. Taking grapes from different varietals and vineyard blocks enables him, as he puts it, “to create wines that are greater than the sum of their parts”. Spier therefore named its range of blended wines after the art project. The number on the bottle refers to the number of varietals used to create each bottle of wine. 

Spier Creative Block 2

Sauvignon Blanc (approximately 80 per cent) and Semillon are used to create this white Bordeaux-style blend. Pair with butter roasted free-range chicken with seasoned goats cheese under the skin, or even spicy, Asian-inspired dishes. The 2012 vintage has won awards including: Silver: Concours Mondial 2013; Silver: International Wine Challenge 2013; Silver: Veritas Wine Awards 2012 and 2013.

Spier Creative Block 3

Shiraz, Mourvedre and Viogner are the varietals used to create this Rhone-style blend. The 2011 vintage won a Double Gold medal at Veritas 2013. Enjoy with pan-fried beef or game fillet with a brandy sauce, smoked venison carpaccio, or a soft south Indian curry.

Spier Creative Block 5

This Bordeaux-style red is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The 2011 vintage has won awards including: Gold: International Wine and Spirits Competition 2013; Gold: Mundus Vini 2013; Silver: Veritas Wine Awards 2013. Pair with rich oxtail stew, or roasted leg of lamb.

For more information go to www.spier.co.za.