New N2 mural celebrates Plett’s whale heritage
Local writer, Rene Connelly interviews Plett artist Gayle Harris about the new whale mural on the N2 at one of Plett’s main entrances.
“And as time goes by, this town’s enthralling beauty has captured my heart to fall in love with the ocean, the mountains and lush forests, and the art just happens.”
Traveling east along the N2 into Plettenberg Bay, the jewel of the Garden Route, has never felt so welcoming. This is thanks, in part, to Gayle Harris, a local artist. Her mural of a whale mother with her calf is as synonymous with Plett as sunshine and pristine beaches. The mural is a collaboration between CapeNature, Plett Tourism and the Bitou Municipality.
“Art has the ability to bring communities together, and with support from CapeNature, we have been able to share this beautiful, printed mural with residents, guests and travellers. After a few unforeseen hiccups, we are now finally able to share this great news,” says Patty Butterworth, CEO Plett Tourism.
Gayle has called Plett her home for 14 years. Born and raised in Durban, she applied herself to an erstwhile career in desktop publishing, photography, and graphic design. These days, however, the bubbly creative expresses her lifelong love for the people and land she calls her own. And through what better medium than intricately detailed oil paintings?
Using canvas is her way of sharing with the world her African heart, despite the loving distraction of being Mom to her three exceptionally busy, home-schooled children. But this is one mother who had gained much experience with busy kids as she grew up with four brothers! So she takes it in her stride. Gayle is passionate about God’s perfect creation and translates that love and passion into her work.
Her eyes sparkle when she talks about her art. Gayle’s affinity for nature is infectious. “I’m drawn to subjects who tell a story through their eyes,” she says. “My art is more than just a portrait, rather the translation of a look, an attitude, a feeling—the soul of Africa at a glance. To capture the mystery of a giant whale, peaceful and gentle, or to feel the mother-child bond frozen in a second; these are the moments I share. I love the warm tones and deep contrasts of Africa. The peaceful blues of ocean giants’ moods. I am mesmerized by the constantly changing ocean and the colours of the sky.”
I was curious about how living in Plett has influenced Gayle’s art. “I’m completely distracted by the display of beauty all around us. Being able to breathe deeply, feel the warm sunshine on my skin, hot sand between my toes, every single day, in between ‘normal life’ – surrounded by overwhelming beauty – inspires me to create. I am utterly spell bound by God’s great masterpiece and that translates into my canvas.”
Although many may harbour the desire to be an artist, that kind of talent doesn’t simply appear on a particularly scenic day. Some fortunate folk are born with an eye for detail and equally skilled hands. Gayle hails from a family of artists, adventurers, and creatives. Her exceptional chalk pastel African portraits revealed her talent as a budding painter. Her efforts were rewarded at school when she won the honourable “Most Promising Artist” award.
Putting family first is tricky for any mother. COVID brought with it challenges but also an opportunity for Gayle to focus on her art.
“When COVID hit and all our lives were forced to slow down, I found myself, sitting quietly, watching a protective mother Humpback whale lying weightlessly in cold blue expanse with her small calf, carefree, rolling playfully at her side. I could not wait to put down the brown pallet, my go-to hue, and start with blues. I found more time to lose myself in painting whales. It is my firm belief that God is the ultimate Artist, the perfect Creator. I just love trying to copy His perfection the best I can.”
Gayle tells me she is a perfectionist at heart, but she grins when she admits that she is often a little ditzy and a self-diagnosed procrastinator. However,she does have practical advice for those out there who doubt their talent: “I’ve learnt through painting to just start, start small, but start. Be inspired and don’t worry about messing up that beautiful, perfect, white canvas. Often my husband must walk past and scribble on my dauntingly clean canvas that I have been staring at blankly for literally hours. Once the perfectionist in me is broken, I accept that it’s okay to make a mistake and I can begin. If you don’t feel inspired, step outside. Breath. Just open your eyes. Create!”
Despite Gayle’s success as a creative, she insists that she considers herself a mom first and then a woman with a passion and talent for painting. She is thankful for the team at Milkwood Gallery, who has walked her journey with her, not only selling her work, but keeping her head out of the clouds long enough to guide her with sound advice.
And there you have it. Let out the artist inside of you and have a whale of a time.