Mark Read.
Mark Read.
Image: Supplied

Mark Read is so much more than a gallerist. As chairman of the Everard Read group of galleries, which was founded more than 100 years ago, he is one of the most influential figures in the art community in South Africa.

But that’s not where the influence ends — in fact, it might be more accurate to say Read is a naturalist with an interest in art.

As deputy chairperson of the WWF South Africa Board, a founding trustee of The Rhino and Elephant Foundation, a co-founder of the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, and a founding partner of the Great Plains Conservation Tourism Company — it is Read’s passion for all things natural that piqued our interest for this nature-inspired edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery, and Luxury.

Read’s obsession with the life of plants goes back more than 30 years, and some say he has become something of a “human Google” on all things botanical. He possesses an extraordinary collection of botanical reference books, and is regularly called on for assistance in identifying plants and wildlife.

“I’m equally interested in frogs, snakes, and fossils — and my new obsession is dragonflies.

“But plants are by far the most complex: the trophic levels [we also had to look it up — it means the position something occupies in a food web] are endless.”

Read jokes that he wishes his plant obsession had never happened.

“We get out of a plane on a landing strip in Mozambique, and I’ll be on the tarmac inspecting a plant growing in the cracks while everyone else waits for me.”

In fact, in the tradition of those natural explorers of old, Read recently identified a species of tree near Phalaborwa that had never been seen in this area before. He quickly rattles off the botanical name for the ordeal tree (Erythrophleum lasianthum) as well as the traditional meaning traditional healers associate with its use — a veritable walking botanical encyclopaedia.

Read and his wife, Christine, own a farm in the Cradle of Humankind outside of Johannesburg. Here, he goes for a two-hour walk every day and finds peculiar pleasure in the regular burning of the veld there.

“To keep that type of vegetation, Bankenveld, biologically diverse, it needs to burn, otherwise it becomes moribund.”

Read boasts 700 species of plant on his farm — 140 of which are grasses.

Read says he is a permanent student of botany, and the reference books in his library are well-read by him, over and over again.

The Everard Read stable boasts several remarkable botanical artists, including Leigh Voigt, Nic Bladen, and Gillian Condy.

While Everard Read was, for much of its existence, regarded as one of Johannesburg’s blue-chip galleries, featuring mostly classical artwork by local and international artists, it has definitely shifted in recent years to become more contemporary in focus.

“We are now committed to contemporary art — that’s where the excitement is,” Read says.

“At our core, there is a deep and profound love for something that celebrates life and the beauty of the planet. But, more and more, emerging young artists are looking at natural resources with deep alarm.”

Read maintains a serious respect for those artists who can deal with a natural subject in an intelligent fashion. “It is a rare talent, and it is never going to be politically correct or part of the now. But it is a subject that requires quiet introspection, because there is no quick fix.”

 From the 2020/2021 edition of Wanted Watches, Jewellery and Luxury.

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