The Post

The colour of memory

I REALLY believe Joe would have prolonged this word (mightily expressive to my mind of some architecture that I know) into a perfect Chorus, but for his attention being providentially attracted by his hat, which was toppling. Indeed, it demanded from him

Richie Ryall has lent this book his masterful portrait of Kingsmead, which adorns the cover. Some might call the painting a landscape, for it depicts a sweep of space about 1,2 hectares wide, beyond the tree line and southern stands and city-buildings.

But Richie has painted a person as much as a place. For Kingsmead is Durban’s oldest host, its grandest dame and, for some of us, a tetchy uncle who shunned us colourful children, but has slowly come round with a hearty embrace reminiscent of a fellow batter, a centurion.

The painting is notable in that every human face faces the other way. And properly so. For a cricket match is underway. Spectators are riveted in the casual way that defines a Test Match or a three-day game. Nothing on the field demands their attention, but they give it anyway.

The painting captures the essence of a Sunday family outing, languor expecting a commotion. Maybe the next bouncer or boundary hit.

Is this attention to detail explained by Richie being a wicketkeeper, who in 123 matches, took 384 catches and 38 stumpings? Wicketkeeping is an art. Crouching while standing up, moving the hands back to cushion the ball, quick wrists to take off the bail as a batsman falls forward.

The painting depicts a rare scene. No one performs a photo-bomb. No one waves gaudy banners or flags. No one seems to be doing any commerce. Thousands sit shoulder to shoulder, encircling a scene that feels important to them. This is more communion than beach party.

In the late 1800s, many artists took to painting natural scenes with great reverence. As the Industrial Revolution transformed the landscape with factories, railroads and grim urban tenements, artists sought to capture the pristine natural world, if only to remember it as it faded away. It is as if Richie, at the cusp of yet another revolution, now ushered in by digital and computing wonders, is channelling the old Impressionists, Monet and landscape painters like Frederick Cuming. He has captured the cricketing world before the razzmatazz, limited-overs, the merch, and, yes, the dopamine hits.

The game is timeless. It changes. And this is not always for the worse. Off to the left, we see a giant video screen beaming replays to the crowd. How this has enriched the spectator experience. Off to the right, we see the billboard of a sponsor.

Fabulous amounts of money injected into the sport have allowed more people to make a living from the game.

Commercialisation has also spawned formats catering for all tastes and attention spans. Kingsmead, on a summer night, now sports as many 16-year-old fans as 60-year-olds. The looming spotlights in the painting make feverish Saturday nights possible, which is to be welcomed.

This is what Richie’s painting does in the mind’s eye. Separate daubs of the brush somehow crowd into focus. And it is the crowd, one suddenly realises, that constitutes the essential ingredient of the stadium.

There is no ground without the crowds drawn to it. Unlike the abandoned “new” Hilton Hotel that Richie takes in, Kingsmead, this venerable, yet also trendy Durban character, this cricket ground, is 100 years old and most certainly not-out.

And Kingsmead is still in play, because people continue, in droves, to throng through the turnstiles.

This book is honoured to display Ryall’s exceptional painting on its cover.





African News Agency