Which artists, books or music have inspired your work?
Growing up, I was surrounded by prints of paintings by the Impressionists – Monet, Manet, Renoir, Seurat… I didn’t realise it, but the focus on light, how light feels, how light affects us, was influencing me every day.
I was also inspired by the Renaissance, but I probably wouldn’t have told you that until I moved to Italy… When I was 14, for my Std. 7 (Grade 9) art class, I created a copy of a Botticelli painting - Madonna of the Magnificat. I don’t remember what drew me to that painting, but when I arrived in Florence in 2017, one day exploring the Uffizi, I was shocked to discover “my” painting hanging on the wall. Perhaps not surprisingly, I discovered I had the Renaissance deep within me from the start…
I was passionate about Van Gogh for many years, finding an exhibition of Van Gogh’s drawings deeply inspirational. Moving to Italy, I became exposed to John Singer Sargent and Joachim Sorolla and I realised these artists were able to represent light in exactly the way I want to.
For books, I was captivated by The Gold Finch by Donna Tartt. The power an artwork can have on a person. The mysticism that surrounds a work of art. How it is created, and then takes on a life of its own. At times much bigger and greater than the artist could have imagined.
I am also deeply inspired by female artists who found their creative voice, expressed their passion, and had a profound influence on the world during their time and beyond – Frida Kahlo, Lee Miller and Georgia O’Keeffe to name just three.
Which South African deceased artist do you most admire and why?
I first saw paintings by J.H. Pierneef when I was studying art in high school at the Frank Joubert Art Centre. His strong images were indelibly imprinted on my mind, and seeing his paintings again a few months ago at the Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch sparked a renewed passion in me for his landscapes, for his strong design, and for his love of this land. I feel the land was in him, and this is how I too feel about the South African landscape.
If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
This is such a difficult question! There are so many artists whose paintings I admire, devour, lose myself in… But when thinking about a piece of art that I want in my life, I am drawn to paintings that I have created, that represent a very important, meaningful moment in my life. My father passed away in January of this year. He was such an unwavering support of me and my artmaking. I painted some irises in the garden, a few days before he passed away. These flowers are to me, flowers for him. This is the painting I choose.
Pick three artists who you would be honored to exhibit with – and why
Daniela Astone, my Florence Academy of Art Second Year Painting Program Director, and also my first landscape teacher. Ben Fenske, my second landscape painting teacher, friend of Daniela’s, and my ongoing instructor and internationally renowned landscape painter. Marc Dalessio, my third landscape painting teacher and internationally renowned landscape painter. All three of these artists’ work I respect and admire greatly. I also feel truly honoured to have been able to get to know them as people and friends during my time studying in Florence. If I was exhibiting with them, I would feel like I had achieved a level of expertise in my landscape painting that I would be truly proud of.
How did you get started? Did you always want to be an artist?
I loved art at school, and painting specifically, but I was too timid to study painting at University. I studied Business Science, and then followed a path into Organisational Psychology, Change Management Consulting and Human Resources. I enjoyed an international career, living and working in New York City, London and Singapore, but while in Singapore, I realised my heart and soul were crying out for art! I took a career break in 2017 and moved to Florence, Italy, to finally study painting in the classical realist style, at the Florence Academy of Art. I realised very shortly after moving to Italy that indeed, this was what my heart desired, and I studied in Italy for three years, before the Covid pandemic caused me to halt my studies a few months before the conclusion of my three-year certificate program.
What are some of the key themes you explore in your work?
I am having a love affair with my natural environment. I cannot think of anything more enjoyable than spending my time trying to capture the beauty that surrounds me, wherever I am. But as any South African or visitor to South Africa will know, I am spoiled for choice in this country. My goal is to capture the natural beauty that surrounds me and in so doing, give people a glimpse into the beauty they may not see, and create connections between the viewer and their world, and themselves.
What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
For me, painting is like being on a hunt for inspiration. I can arrive at a spot and be immediately drawn to one particular scene or view, but a few steps to the left or right, and I lose the sense of awe, wonder, inspiration. Sometimes it flows very naturally, but at other times it feels like more of a struggle and I may walk – or drive – around for quite some time before finding a spot that speaks to me. Sometimes I don’t even find a spot, and have to admit to myself that on that day, I couldn’t find my inspiration. Something else people may not know is that on many mornings I will wake up before the sun is up, and will be out finding a spot to paint as soon as there is enough light to see. This is because it is usually the light at the start and end of the day that is the most magical, and I need to be up and out early to catch those moments of magic that I try and hold onto forever, by immortalising them in paint.
What are the most essential items in your studio and why?
My studio has a double sink which I love (with my row of pot plants above it framing my view of Devil’s Peak). This is because as an oil painter, I often have lots and lots of brushes to clean at the end of the day! However, the most essential items are the items I use when I am outside of my studio – my portable easel and my palette. My portable easel, from Winsor and Newton, my parents bought for me years ago. I had no idea, back then, that I would become a landscape painter and use my easel daily! It is foldable and I can carry it anywhere I want to go. My palette is a newer purchase from New Wave, made from maple wood and is remarkably lightweight. The design also allows it to fit snugly on my waist, so I never feel like I’m actually holding my palette, it is so naturally an extension of me.
Tell us more about your creative process.
When I was in Italy, I was taught the foundations for how to be ready for the plein air painting experience (painting outdoors from life). You need to have just enough gear to meet your needs when out in the wilderness, but not too much that you’re weighed down (literally) by too many things. Most of the time I’m walking or clambering across rocks, logs or sand, so the less I have the better. But I really don’t want to be caught without my turpentine, my paper towels or my Transparent Red Oxide when my car is a long walk away. I also need to make sure I’m ready for the elements – the wind is the most disruptive, so I often carry a separate canvas bag that I can hang on my easel with weights in it to stop the easel from blowing over in a gust of wind (this has happened many times, so I have to remind myself even if there is no wind, to assume a gust could come at any time and weight my easel regardless.)
So the first step is to have just what I need, and nothing more.
The next step is to make sure I have a variety of surface types and sizes to choose from, because when I’m outside in nature, I don’t know exactly what scene is going to grab me and inspire me to paint it. So a variety of sizes and dimensions is essential, both on wooden panels (that I prepare myself) or stretched canvas. It becomes a bit of a gamble which surfaces I actually take with me when I start walking to find a spot, as they are heavy, so sometimes I have to make my best guess before actually finding the scene.
Next, I love having an imprimatura (tinted colour) already painted on my panels or canvases. I usually have a lot of fun with these undercoats. I paint the undercoats days or weeks before a particular painting day, so I have no idea what scene will inspire me, so again I try and have a big variety with me at any one time.
My process for painting a scene once I find one that inspires me, is to do a quick sketch to check the composition and value relationships, and then to draw the scene in black charcoal or paint onto my chosen surface. Then I use a thin layer of paint to “mass in” the shadows, and then I quickly paint the sky. I usually start with the sky so that I can judge all the other values in relation to the sky. Then I try and capture whatever light effect I found inspiring to begin with – and as quickly as possible! As the light effect changes moment to moment, no minute can be wasted when painting en plein air!
Do you believe an artist should use their platform to influence society? Why?
I believe that artists who have a message they want to share, can and certainly should use their platform to influence society. A message that is important for me to share, but how I do this is still unfolding, is the importance of protecting our natural environment. I often choose to exclude man-made structures from my paintings when I’m painting landscapes, imagining what the scene looked like before humans existed. I love to imagine the world without any human influence, just as nature intended it, and before we began shaping and using nature to our own ends.
Do you have a favourite or most meaningful work?
In 2008, my sister attended a 10-day homestay in the Eastern Cape to live with a rural Xhosa family and better master the language she studied in high school. Eight years later, we returned together, and we met the umakhulu (grandmother) with whom she stayed, still living in the same rural hut. I took some photographs of our time with her and her family. Upon returning to Singapore, where I was living and working in a corporate job, I did a charcoal drawing of one of my photos of umakhulu in her hut, which I then rolled up and hand-delivered to my sister in America, by way of many bumpy roads driving across Iceland (I visited Iceland on my way to America)! I was sure the charcoal would have smudged with all the travel, but amazingly my fixative did its job, and the drawing is now hanging framed in my sister’s apartment. This drawing is meaningful to me because it was possibly the first time I felt like an art life could become my life, and it inspired me to pursue my dream to study art full time in Italy. In addition, it is of a person deeply meaningful to my sister, who is deeply meaningful to me.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
My greatest achievement is coming back to South Africa in 2020 in the midst of Covid and finding my way to my passion for plein air painting, creating an artist community in Cape Town, finding a studio with passionate, inspirational artists, and finding opportunities to display and sell my work, all within one year.
As a runner up, my second greatest achievement is giving up my international corporate career and committing three years to studying classical realism painting full time at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy. The training is grueling, yet deeply fulfilling, and I am deeply proud of my perseverance and commitment to the training and the process.
What are your aspirations for the future?
My aspirations for the future are to continue painting as many landscapes as I can, in as many beautiful places as I can, while simultaneously enhancing my skills as a landscape painter. I plan to travel the world (when the world is open to travel again), finding inspiring places to paint, with fellow artists and friends. I hope to be part of solo and group exhibitions with fellow artists near and far, to show the world just how important and special our natural environment is, and to inspire each of us to protect and care for our earth.