Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?
Locally in Durban, Pascale Chandler is so inspiring as an artist and a friend. She constantly pushes the boundaries of her materials and has such a keen observation for the city and her surrounds, always looking and observing with fresh eyes. I am in awe of Ryan Hewett’s ability to constantly keep his work fresh and exciting and I love the borderline kitsch, colourful and often bizarre images from Georgina Gratrix. The juicy paint marks of Erin Chaplin’s work have me swooning, as does the composition of Bronwen Findlay’s large paintings and the textures and patterns of Varenka Paschke’s work. I love that colour, texture and pattern are being given so much recent attention in all spheres of design. I’ve never been a beige kind of girl…the magic of colour is so powerful!
Which South African deceased artist do you most admire and why?
It’s so hard to choose just one so I will narrow it down to two South African women artists, Irma Stern and Maggie Laubser who both had an amazing and keen sense of observation of the world around them. Their paintings resonate deeply with my passion for colour and design.
If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
Without a doubt it would be to own a painting by Matisse. I really wouldn’t be fussy about which painting, as I love most of his work! He had a brilliant sense of design and his use of colour and form, in its most simplistic but effective way, is so inspiring. To stand in front of one of his works in a museum or gallery takes my breath away!
How did you get started? Did you always want to be an artist?
I have always been a ‘maker’. I come from a family of creatives and crafters and to ‘make’ has just always been a way of life. My best presents as a child were always a new box of crayons (all those new colours!). I can remember the birthday when I got a big Crayola paint/crayon/koki set, better than I remember any other. But perhaps my biggest influence has been my fortuitous encounter with two amazing art teachers who changed my life forever! I am still in contact with both of them and have exhibited with one of them. I will always be grateful to them both and perhaps that is why my first decision was to teach and share with others, before concentrating on my own work.
What are some of the key themes you explore in your work?
My work always starts with observation! Observation is key to being able to branch out and explore my desire to capture the essence of something that might evoke emotion or a connection with the viewer. My current body of work stems from observation of the natural world, mostly flowers, which are explored through shape, pattern, colour and an innate desire to connect with something beautiful. I unashamedly am connected to things that resonate with beauty, not in a superficial way, but in a way that speaks to the soul and uplifts ones spirit. Perhaps it’s sheer escapism from any doom and gloom in the world.
What inspired your latest body of work?
I had been working on a daily challenge of painting one little postcard size painting each day as a way of observing and documenting the world around me. I realized on looking back over a year and a half of little paintings how often flowers appeared in these daily observations. So flowers became my natural muse when exploring a new body of work. My desire though was to no longer merely represent what I saw, but evoke an emotional connection to the blooms through more expressive mark making, colour, pattern and texture. My love of history and story telling through objects (themes explored in other bodies of work) still comes through in this work with the regular inclusion of textures from my granny’s tablecloths or stitched patterns which are subtlety embedded in some of the images.
Tell us more about your creative process.
My creative process is a little chaotic; no two paintings are approached in exactly the same manner. I leave a lot to chance. I explore a lot. Sometimes I explore too much and end up trashing what I have made (these are usually the paintings that when finished, end up my favourites). Sometimes I don’t explore enough which means the painting hangs around my studio for a while staring at me until I courageously give it another go. I am not scared to ‘mess up’ a painting and this ‘messing up’ is often the creative process I need to find the magic. So for this reason, my paintings are built up with lots of layering. It’s a fine line between building up the layers and allowing some areas to breath when that first initial mark just works. I always have a few paintings on the go at the same time. It’s like one giant conversation that happens between the canvases and me. My studio is also always full of blooms and garden cuttings for inspiration!
What drives you as an artist?
My desire to get into my studio each day is more out of necessity than anything else. I cannot imagine not being able to create; it’s just what I do. I carry a book and pen in my bag always. I have two busy teenage children so there is lots of time around the sports field and dance studios drawing and observing. I have a travel bag with materials packed that travels with me always, even on overseas trips. Documenting visually in my journals is a daily ritual. What drives me is an innate desire to document visually my reaction to all that is around me. The fact that I get to share it with others sometimes and call it work is an added bonus!
Do you have a favourite or most meaningful work?
Yes, I chose to keep a painting from my exhibition “…a long story” with Melanie Wilson (my high school art teacher, fellow artist and good friend). It is a very large painting of my daughter Amy and her bunny called “Time out with Rosie” It captured everything I wanted a painting to capture through colour, pattern and paint that evokes such emotion it leaves you wanting to look a little longer. It will always hang in my home…and tug at my heartstrings.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
In 2013 I set out to try paint a little postcard size painting every day for one month to exercise my skills of observation. One month became 365 days and this resulted in an exhibition called “365 days of paint”. I went on to complete 568 consecutive days of little paintings before an accident broke the cycle. What these 568 days of consecutive little paintings taught me about the creative process, observation, paint, determination, perseverance and commitment is invaluable!
What are your aspirations for the future?
I’ve never been one to plan out things way in advance very well, although any good businessperson will tell you that setting those goals is key! While my obvious goal is to keep creating and painting and growing as an artist, I like to remain open to opportunities and open to change. I love the TED talk that Elizabeth Gilbert gives about the creative muse that rushes over you like a gust of wind. Sometimes you get to grasp it by the tail and pull it back and revel in it, sometimes you let it breeze over you as it was not meant for you in the first place. I guess I like the excitement of waiting to see what the future blows my way and embracing that which is meant for me!
Learn more about Heidi Shedlock in our interview and short film with the artist in studio here.