The Rossouw Modern Art Galleries have become a landmark in Hermanus since an energetic entrepreneur with a penchant for style and beauty, for good art and chic clothes opened the doors of a traditional fisherman’s cottage in Harbour Road in 1995. At the time it was the only art gallery in Hermanus – and this month the gallery’s owner, Jozua Rossouw, is celebrating Rossouw Modern’s 25th birthday.
For any business in Hermanus to survive this long is extraordinary, let alone for an art gallery specialising in contemporary artworks with a cutting-edge quality. And were it not for the COVID-19 lockdown, Jozua would have been celebrating this momentous milestone with his usual flair, in the company of his wide circle of friends, artists and art patrons.
But Jozua is not someone to let anything keep him from a good party, so he’s taken it online and invites everyone to join him in celebrating this silver anniversary over the next two months on Rossouw Modern’s website and Facebook and Instagram pages, where he’ll be posting regular stories, reminiscences and photos of what he calls “the highlights of this quarter of a century long adventure”. If you’ve been a part of Rossouw Modern’s journey, Jozua would love to hear your stories as well, so please get in touch via Facebook or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Getting back to the cottage in Harbour Road, it is here that Jozua opened The Fisherman’s Gallery on 8 May 1995 to exhibit his own paintings alongside works by his favourite artist, Sheena Ridley and other local artists. Apparently there was a roaring party that night that was long remembered in the then sleepy village. “Enduring friendships and connections were made that night,” he says.
About two years later, when the florist next door moved out, Jozua took over that half of the building and created one big space for the renamed Rossouw Modern Art Gallery. A few years ago he also acquired additional premises just across the road down Warrington Place, which afford him the extra space he needs for large works and special exhibitions.
Jozua and his galleries have become such an integral part of the community that it’s impossible to imagine not only the art scene but the whole town without his vibrant presence. He can often be found hosting lunch on what his friend, Talita Engelbrecht calls Rossouw Modern’s “infamous stoep”, and any passing visitors are likely to find themselves invited into the gallery for a friendly chat and a glass of local wine.
Amid the many fond memories being shared on Rossouw Modern’s website and social media platforms, a backward glance at the journey that brought him to our shores is perhaps appropriate as we celebrate this milestone with him.
Jozua grew up in the northern suburbs of Cape Town and spent most of his high school years as a resident learner at Dirkie Uys High School in Moorreesburg. While this sounds like a most unlikely place for a sophisticated teen with artistic leanings, Jozua says he was very happy in Moorreesburg where “they fully embraced this weird kid from the Cape”!
After matriculating he had his heart set on swotting drama but ended up doing law at Stellenbosch University, where he soon realised that his talents were more of a creative than academic nature. He dropped out and started working in a restaurant in Sea Point while selling his own artworks at various markets, before being conscripted into the army for military training, which in those days was still compulsory. Once again Jozua’s positive attitude carried him through this challenging time.
“The army was a good experience,” he says. “I was thrown together with guys from all walks of life and that generates a sense of camaraderie. It also showed me just how strong I am.” After training as a medic, Jozua was stationed in Nyanga, where his entrepreneurial instinct soon recognised a business opportunity – selling second-hand clothing and household goods in the township.
After the army, Jozua settled in his family’s holiday home in Betty’s Bay. During this time he expanded his business to include artworks, which he sold at more than a dozen markets all over the Western Cape. Among them was Lemm’s Corner in Hermanus, where he sold his own multi-media artworks and those he’d purchased from his artist friends. “I struck up a friendship with several artists,” says Jozua. “One of them was local artist Hugo Maritz, who remains one of my oldest clients. After taking a few of his paintings I sold five in one week!”
Once Jozua had found his niche as an art dealer, curator and gallery owner, there was no looking back. He has been instrumental in advancing the careers of dozens of artists, and says he finds it specifically rewarding to give young artists a chance. “I started with nothing and many of my current established artists were unknown back then,” he says, adding that he also enjoys working with artists who’ve had no formal training; whose work is original and dramatic.
“To me an artwork is not just a picture – while technical aspects such as composition are important, it has to have a storyline and elicit a diversity of emotional responses. The clients I work with were born to be artists – they could never be anything else. Even if they are penniless, it is something they simply have to continue doing.”
And perhaps the same thing can be said of Jozua. The Village NEWS certainly hopes he will overcome the current challenges and continue to do what he does so well, bringing joy, colour and beauty to our town and sharing his generosity and compassion with the whole community. Happy birthday, Rossouw Modern!