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Finding creativity in unexpected places

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Glass photographer and FLAG - Fearless Little Art Gallery - owner Fred Hatman offers unique, once-off, art items at his shop tucked away in Hermanus.

The Inspiration

Creative inspiration can strike at odd times. Fred Hatman went out to the loo in a little cottage of a property he was housesitting for side cash while working on a book. While there, he looked out the window and suddenly saw interesting shapes and colourful lights, similar to the blur of light and form he saw as a child with acute astigmatism. He realised he was looking through old distorted glass and went to get his camera.

Fred Hatman pictured with distorted glass, the key tool of his niche glass photography technique. Picture: Fred Hatman

Thus began his journey these past two years as an abstract colour photographer looking through pieces of opaque or distorted glass, and sometimes plastic or water. It is a delicate and impromptu process to capture a magical effect on ordinary objects.

“It’s a ride into the unknown. When I try to control it by concocting an image I think might work under the distorted glass piece, it often rejects me,” says Hatman.

Fred Hatman alongside one of his abstract glass photographs, abalonia babylonia. Picture: Abbie Wolf

And so, much of the time, the successful photographs are, “beautiful mistakes,” as Hatman describes them. “There are many factors that contribute to making an abstract distortion successful – and all of those must come into play at the same time. So my process is extremely hit-and-miss and, yes, much more miss than hit.”

Fred Hatman’s car. Before opening the gallery, he worked as a freelance journalist and photographer. Picture: Abbie Wolf

To always be ready for the perfect lighting, Hatman carries old pieces of glass in the trunk of his car that he gathered from a dump site. As they say, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. “Like a complete nutjob, I walk around with my camera in one hand and piece of glass in the other looking for anything that catches my eye and trying to make magic with the light.”

It started as a hobby, then Hatman realised people were willing to buy the work and it could be put on exhibition. After going around to the Hermanus galleries, he saw a lot of paintings and sculptures, but they weren’t very welcoming to photography, “especially to a guy photographing through toilet window glass.” But the itch to have his work seen and sold remained, so he thought just maybe he could get his own space.

The Opening

He started looking for a space in early last year and opened for the First Friday this past December. Hatman didn’t expect the gallery to come together so quickly and his friends are now surprised to find him there after a long journalism career.

He had his eyes on a small 30 square metre property, and outside it includes a charming courtyard shared with two other businesses. When the previous tenant opted out of their lease, and it was offered to him to start leasing at the end of November at a reasonable price, he knew he had to “seize the opportunity with both hands”.

Fred Hatman in the courtyard where he hosts soirees during Hermanus First Friday Artwalks. Photo: Abbie Wolf

Hatman is now off the beaten track in every way as his shop is tucked away between High and Mitchell streets in Hermanus, a seaside vacation town and fishing village. If one doesn’t know what they’re looking for, you might just miss the little FLAG sign amongst bigger restaurants like Rossi’s Italian Restaurant across the street.

To counteract the lack of visibility, Hatman has leaflets around town and on a board outside a nearby art gallery drawing in about a fifth of his traffic. Hatman estimates 40% have heard about it from friends and another 40% wander in after a meal at the neighboring CanD’s Kitchen.

FLAG’s first sale was to Laina Lesicnik, a friend of Hatman’s who went to celebrate the opening of the gallery. Little did she know she would, “immediately feel drawn,” to the colours and original technique of one of his pieces, “Earth, Wind and Fire,” a sunset photographed through a cut glass vase.

Just like how a glass photograph accidentally comes together beautifully, for those that stumble upon the little gallery, they might just find a unique item they didn’t even know they were looking for.


The Vibe

Many clients and passers-by describe the shop as “cute” or “adorable,” but Hatman thinks “quirky and enigmatic” best capture the essence. To set the mood, Hatman plays smooth jazz and one can look into the depths of the abstract photographs or inspect mushroom ceramics.

Mushroom ceramics by Susan Proctor Hume on a recycled wood table by Jan Vingerhoets. Picture: Abbie Wolf

In addition to his abstract photography using glass and plastics, the gallery hosts a variety of other unique local artists: a range of functional and pure artwork ceramics by Susan Proctor Hume, mosaic figurines and vintage ceramic pieces by Alex Forsyth and abstract acrylic paintings by Tracy Algar.

Much of the artwork sits on tables by Jan Vingerhoets using reclaimed wood. Vingerhoets specialises in functional art from reclaimed wood, metal, stone, glass, and plastic, recovering many of these farm and household materials from landfills in the Overberg region of the Western Cape.

Jan Vingerhoets’ repurposed lamp with an oil can handle alongside mosaics by Alex Forsyth. Picture: Fred Hatman


Distinctive Décor  

The artwork in Hatman’s gallery could certainly be a conversation starter in someone’s home. The unexpected elements of the work are what make them so special, whether it is the recycled oil can handle on Vingerhoets’ lamp or the sun’s rays behind a bush that come out as rainbow bubbles in Hatman’s distorted glass photograph, “whenthesunburstthroughtthesky”.

Fred Hatman’s “whenthesunburstthroughtthesky”. Picture: Fred Hatman

“There will always be a demand for something completely unique. The very best artists created a niche for themselves, I don’t think anybody got recognised for repeating the same pictures of cute puppies.”

Hatman on how to incorporate creativity into your home. Video: Abbie Wolf

Hatman emphasised that all the artwork he showcases is, “aimed at collectors who want an artwork or functional décor piece that is not replicated by other artists and not produced for mass market – yet is very affordable in the context of the art market.”

The vast majority of artworks are priced between R500 and R4 000, with some of the ceramics as cheap as R200.

Alex Forsyth’s mosaic bust, “Burlesque Lady” at R12 000, the most expensive piece in the gallery. Picture: Abbie Wolf

Much of Hatman’s traffic has been from word-of-mouth, with people wanting to see the array of quirky pieces themselves. Hatman says he hopes this curiosity transfers to more purchases.

Hatman’s work, Nebula Fantasia on display at The Wine Glass coffee station in Hermanus. Picture: Fred Hatman


Using the Past to Look Forward

Hatman’s endeavour is fearless, just as it says on the door, “Fearless Little Art Gallery.” Not only is he offering artwork for a distinct market looking for something different, he has no formal art background or education.

Hatman first bought a camera in the early 1980’s, expensing it to the daily paper he was writing for in Durban as there was no photography team. After dabbling with it, Hatman “realised how much I wanted to be creative, how much I’d missed out on.”

To provide some children that opportunity he never had, Hatman is going to clear the gallery out for the First Friday Artwalk in October, offering a blank canvas for children to create and showcase their art. Kids Various ethnic groups will be represented as Hatman will reach out to kids from Hermanus, Hawston and the nearby township Zwelihle. 

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