Linda and Sir Paul McCartney with Heather, Stella, and Mary. Image: Supplied
Linda and Sir Paul McCartney with Heather, Stella, and Mary. Image: Supplied

Actor, author, and stealer of a million hearts with his lockdown negroni-making videos Stanley Tucci was recently the guest on iconic BBC Radio 4 show Desert Island Discs. Chatting about growing up Italian American, he mused that his cooking-genius mom always asked him and his siblings, “How come none of you ended up being doctors or lawyers?” Of this, Tucci said to host Lauren Laverne, “I was like, how would that have happened? Where was that encouraged? It was all about food and art.”

His is a classic case of nurture versus nature. Tucci’s secretary mom filled a kitchen with the aroma of tomato sauce or nonna’s summer soup and his art-teacher dad brought up the rear. What chance did he have to be framed by anything other than a creative context that has had him sculpt a life etched with food, film, writing, and art?

A couple of months ago, Tucci even interviewed music legend Paul McCartney about the latter’s photography exhibition that is on at the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery in London. The actor’s life has clearly been saturated with all his formative influences. Not wanting to stray into nepo-baby territory here, but even Sir Paul and Linda’s four adult kids have careers adjacent to those of their late mama and pop-idol pops — that is, in fashion, photography, pottery, and music, respectively.

I have a friend who is wild about the wild. He is a big-hearted human iteration of Google as far as animals and plants go. Point at it and he’ll rattle off the Latin name. Any surprise, then, that his daughter studied biological sciences and champions nature reserves across our continent as a profession? Sure, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but you probably know a few people who are part of a multigenerational tribe of dentists or accountants. It is often hard to escape the fiery familial forges in which your loves and life purpose are fashioned.

Like Tucci, I was born into a household where one parent was an art teacher. In this instance, my mom taught junior-school art. This is a great blessing when you are a child. A mother with the skills to turn two packets of crêpe paper into a complete Super Woman costume is manifestly a plus — but with that comes accoutrements less obvious than a tube of craft glue. There were the Sterns and Pembas — sadly, not on walls but rather in reference books. I recall spending hours as an adolescent leafing through Lucy Alexander and Evelyn Cohen’s 150 South African Paintings: Past and Present and being mesmerised by Reshada Crouse’s exceptional portrait of fashion designer Marianne Fassler. I still adore it and have told both the painter and sitter so.

There were trips to galleries and museums and, though not about to fetch billions at the next Christie’s auction, walls hung with pieces that cemented a love of colour and light and a profound respect for good painting. Art education in South African schools is sketchy, and a government more interested in mega flag poles than support for artists puts us on the visual back foot too, so this private tuition was an advantage.

Today, when I write about Lady Skollie or clock an Ezrom Legae bronze, I am reminded of the fundamentals of looking at and thinking about art that were ingrained in that maternal bedrock. It was a great fortune to be born under a Van Gogh-like sky of art stars. Now, I just need to find a gent, moulded by one helluva hedge fund manager or mining-magnet parent, to indulge my learnt love for this good stuff.

• From the September edition of Wanted, 2023.

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