The Strange World of Sobeit Studio
Words Carrie Hampton, pics Carrie Hampton and supplied
Entering Sobeit Studio on an unimposing stretch of Muizenberg Main Road is a little like falling down Alice’s rabbit hole, where nothing is as you knew it before. It’s a magical wonderland and like Alice’s, can at times be ghoulish and borderline macabre, but is always different and diverting.
It’s the creative home of Bartel van Vuuren and Liezle Fourie, whose art pieces defy classification. One of their trademark themes are colourful moulded candles of Lenin, Napoleon and Godly saints, or their darker creations like candles in the shapes of skulls, bones and anatomical hearts and brains?
Skulls make appearances in many guises; sometimes metallic coated with teeth shining gold, sometimes as a planter, “or a sweet dish” suggested Bart! He says it is not morbid or satanic; his fascination has to do with pirates, history, Darwin and an intrigue about bones and skeletons. “It’s simple,” he says, “we are inspired by legendary tales, epic adventures and a lust for beautiful things.”
Bart and Liezle admit that their products are different and you must be unafraid and equally different to appreciate them. Bart says, “We like to amaze people and when our work begins to appear too mainstream we change.” They are starting to wonder if their circular mirrors have become too popular. The round rims are naively decorated with children’s farm animal toys and given names like Cape to Cairo with crocodiles and palm trees, Fossey with gorillas, Adamson with lions, etc. Each one is handmade and thus a little different, but the range may come to an end because of its success.
Everything is made from a mould; “Sit there long enough and we’ll make a candle out of you,” threatened Bart, and the proof is Liezle’s hand used to create the lifelike hand candles. All the body part art is anatomically correct – some might think with all too realistic detail. Even the moulded parakeets flocking around the rim of a large mirror are a mould from a sadly demised creature. And the stuffed owl is roadkill.
Parakeets in white look pure and peaceful, but turn them and the mirror frame black and you get something more sinister. This appeals to Bart, who plays with these concepts but manages to steer just clear of creepy or menacing.
“We have fun – we don’t work we play,” states Bart and the studio is testament to that.
There’s a blue cast antelope head, black porter’s chairs with rams heads denoting the status of a throne, lamps with an internal glow, mermaid waiter trays, giant bones hanging from the ceiling and a myriad of visual stimulation. When Liezle and Bart aren’t collaborating, Liezle is making jewellery, such as brass wrist cuffs cut into lattice designs and large baroque ‘Marie Antoinette’ cuffs, which makes the arm wearing it into an instant talking point.
Everything at Sobeit Studio is 100% original and comes from an attitude that everything is possible. This stems from Bart’s roots in a highly creative family (owners of electric restaurant Cape to Cuba and arts-inspired Cape to Cairo curio shops in Kalk Bay, as well as the former Sobeit Russian club in Cape Town’s famed Longmarket Street - among other endeavours).
Bart also learned the art of improvisation from years working on sets and props for the film industry where strange requests are the norm. He applies that philosophy now and when crazy creative ideas surface, Bart and Liezle’s mantra is “So Be It!”
Sobeit Studio is on the first floor of 51 Main Road, Muizenberg. Look out for the skull on the signpost above the building.