Christy Lee Folkey a Grade 9 Pupil at St Michaels School in Bloemfontein researched this article on Fr Frans Claerhout for an assignment for school. She consulted libraries, Art Galleries and interviewed Fr Claerhout at his home in Tweespruit. Christy Lee's other interests include Rhytmic Gymnastics and Dance in which she competes at National level.

Meeting Fr Frans Claerhout.

 

Priest, Chef and Inernational Artist.

 

This extrodinary man is a Roman Catholic Priest who has had great success in the artistic field. He donates most of his money to the church, and some to charity.

He says that "Like a father supports his family, he supports the churches financially."

He can cook really well and still enjoys the most wonderful hobby of art!

 

Introduction.

 

On my visit to Tweespruit to interview this famous artist, I was excited to be meeting such a well known man. As I set foot in his drive way, the memories of earlier visits were remembered. I came about meeting him before with members from my churvh.

I was really looking forward to getting to know him beter. The reason I decided to interview this artist was because of his ability to do two good things at once. He is able to close to God and create the most beautiful and striking paintings or

sculptures. He was a painter all his life but sadly does not paint as much anymore.

He also does sculpting. This artist of 82 years old, is still a living proof of a man of great enthusiasm and kindness. He sometimes finds it hard to hear you, and you have to repeat some questions often. He forgets most things you tell him, but remembers his whole life story extreamely well. His love for Africa and its inhabitants is greatly appreciated, for a man who put all his hopes and dreams in Gods hand.

This man that I came to know so well is a true inspiration to me, probably because he has no problem in expressing who he is and what he does. The inspiration of God through him to many people is to me very touching. He has helped so many

people to forgive themselves, find themselves and especially God. 

My Story of Fr Frans Claerhout.

 

Claerhout completed his training for the priesthood in 1945 and was sent to South Africa in 1946. Initially he worked in the Transvaal but in 1948 he was transferred to Bloemfontein, the Capital of the Orange Free State.  In 1957 the Scotts saw two of Claerhouts works being exhibited in the Bloemfontein City Hall. He met many people and other artists through Dr. Scott. They had originally been introduced to each other through a Belgium priest named Dr. Tremmerie. During a break from his dermatological practice, Dr Scott went to Claerhout’s home to view his latest works. He decided to buy the lot, and when Claerhout wanted only 2 Shillings for all of them. He insisted to pay 2 Shillings for each one.

 

Claerhout’s greatest talent lies in his true charcoal sketches, however native they appear, they flow with understanding. Slowly he developed his sketches by rubbing them with oil paint. The sketch is an easy medium to capture quick impressions and to memorize his tales. The Free State’s stark clarity and wide open skies and its Bantu population with their love of brightly coloured headdresses, blankets and dresses, nudged Claerhout into broadening his palette-his work slowly became more red, yellow, green and blue. Through constant experimentation he mastered the colour of his enviroment. “Sometimes I find my paintings to dark, I quickly slap on a lighter colour (with a big fat brush) – and it works. It is like quickly wiping someone’s nose before they appear in public.”(Claerhout, 1994. Pg 36) After his heart attack in Belgium, he experienced what he likes to call a second lease on life. His colours became even more colourful – his colours radiating his warmth for and love of South Africa. Claerhout likes people, he paints people. “Why paint landscapes when you can empty a paintbrush with women, donkeys and sunflowers.”(Claerhout ,1994. Pg 45)

 

To him women are the core of families. He draws mouths, hands, faces and not feet or toes. His style is an impressionistic style; he paints what he thinks about something after looking at it really hard. “I like to paint through the eyes of a child.” (Claerhout, 1994. Pg 56) His texture is putting 10 layers on top of each other. “Colour should come naturally, otherwise you are lying and the biggest sin in art is lying.” (Claerhout, 1994. Pg 31) His artwork the Sun Catcher actually means that if you catch the sun you will never die; death is the answer to our lives. He paints mainly women and people working, and tries to capture the movements. His sketches are done very quickly as he does not try to make it as perfect as he sees it. His paintings however depicting stories. He went through many colour phases, from blue to yellows, reds and browns. He also likes to think that he lives in an alive world and the world lives in his work.  He told me that there is no conflict of interest in either facet. The way he talks, the way he does his service and the way he relaxes in his spare time as part of being a painter.

 

“We salute him, this mission priest who through his artistic creations gives us a glimpse of human values and truths, a glimpse into our own hearts, perhaps.” (Thus Iris Ampenberger writes about Clearhout. 1975. Pg 100) One can look at the clay huts with their crocked doors and windows, with walls that have never seen a spirit level, but these walls become annoyed and essentially are all those things and do all those things which “being human”, entails. The needs of father Claerhouts people are simple, such as the most essential foodstuffs and fuel, a few rags of clothing, blankets against the bitterly cold Free State winters. At such times the love of God, sober and practical, means the love of one’s neighbour. So it happens that the truck of the Maruti is heavily laden with humps of brown bread, with cans of thick soup, with pockets of oranges for the children-children emaciated and potbellied from to much “milliepap” without milk. When the truck shaking over the corrugated roads, rumbles by, their little black eyes shine, their white teeth gleam and their arms wave frantically. Claerhout is a religious leader, who lives with his people in health and in sickness and tries to relieve their worldly needs. There are constant comings and goings at his parsonage: one needs money for a sick child and another needs a train ticket to a relative. Therefore his art is an actual portrayal of Frans Claerhout himself.

 

It is probably these very subjects that arouse such admiration for Claerhout’s work, when he paints the Bantu people he paints them doing their daily work. He paints them in a pastoral setting, without bitterness, often comic, but always with sympathy, vitality and warmth. The people he paints are strong sculptural figures, firmly paced on earth to form part of it. At the time of his first solo exhibition in November 1961, an art critic wrote thus: “Riper work and more original and gifted talent, was probably not seen for years at the debut of art in Johannesburg”. Claerhout loves to share his magic with others and often gruffly denounces some of his works while laughingly enjoying the happy results which so often contain humorous moments he has captured in others. we find great tenderness almost sweetness, but no excessive sentimentality in the mother and child motif. He achieved particular renown through his child portraits-quite impersonal faces to portray the spirit of the child. He looks at the soul of the child, whose colour, race, background or civilization is immaterial. The shining faces always constitute the central theme, enlivened with a pretty dress full of flowers.

 

Clearhout deriving such pleasure from his creations would not hesitate to experiment with various media. He modeled in clay, carved in wood, made sand casts, created murals and printed monotypes and linocuts. His linocuts are known very little, but his ability to sculpt is widely known. He creates at least two sculptures every year and one Christmas scene annually in paint. Father Michael Bissonnette a priest and close friend of Fr Clearhout, encourages him to paint at least one painting a year despite the fact that the paint is damaging his lungs. He told me that he would like to try and paint in the summer again when it is warmer, and get his painting off the ground again. I was particularly privileged to have met this man and to have been so inspired by him in so many ways. Of a man full of understanding and human comparison, a man who believes strongly in the maintenance of the family unit, who feels most strongly for children of all races and who concerns himself especially with the future of the children and his future missions. And his art that has given him a stronger inner, feeling to inspire himself and also be inspired through God.

 

Expiditions by Fr Frans Claerhout.

 

National Exhibitions

 

First Exhibition  1957 October with Bloemfontein Group.

Second Exhibition  April 1959 in Bloemfontein.

Third Exhibition  1960 William Humphreys Art Museum Kimberly.

Fourth Exhibition 1960 Egon Gunter,private art gallery,Johannesburg.

 

First Solo Exhibition  1967 November Egon Gunter.

From 1964 - 1980  Exhibition every two years in major cities and Universities of South

         Africa.

 

Home Exhibitions of series.

 

Die Sonnevanger

Christus in Tweeespruit

Christus en die ander persoon

Reconciliation by women

The dance of the farm Labourer

 

International Exhibitions.

 

Belgium  10 exhibitions in Oostduinkerken, Province of West Vlaander

Canada    5 exhibitions in Quebec and Ottawa

Germany 2 exhibitions in Darmstadt in 1978 and 1983

Chicago   2 exhibitions in 1982 and 1991

 

 

Clearhout's OMI

 

Birth:  15 February 1919 Pittem, West Vlaader Belgium

Joined: 1939 joined the missionary oblates of Mary immaculate Ordained: 1944 

Arrived in South Africa: 1946 Magaliesberg Transvaal. Here he attended several orientation courses and learnt to speak Sotho.