In the Studio with Catherine Ocholla

Catherine Ocholla was born in Kenya in 1983. She grew up in South Africa and obtained a BA degree in Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in 2007. As a painter, her primary focus is on the sky as a backdrop to humanity’s (mostly self imposed) dramas, with more environmental undertones that point to issues of global warming, pollution and reflection on how we will be remembered by future generations - an attempt to both capture the zeitgeist of this era and imagine different iterations of the future.


We asked Catherine some questions about her inspirations, work process and existential exploration of the skies.
View Catherine’s paintings here>>>

Which new trends or South African artists do you find inspiring at the moment?
I am thoroughly enjoying the work of Wim Botha - his exhibition at the Norval Foundation was a revelation.

Which South African deceased artist do you most admire and why?

I’ve had a long standing fascination with the work of Robert Hodgins, who passed fairly recently (2010). Sometimes he is described as an English painter, other times he is South African. Based on my reaction to some of the works that I have encountered at the Cape Town Art Fair, I would say he is top of my list at present. His use of colour is off the charts.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
An original work by Lizza Littlewort from her ‘Almost Famous’ exhibition.

How did you get started? Did you always want to be an artist?
Yes and no. There was a push and pull, and then complete submission to the rollercoaster that is art. Trying not to be an artist is like trying not to breathe (and getting choked at the same time).

What are some of the key themes you explore in your work?

When my gaze first shifted upwards, my focus was more existential and internal. This, combined with a great love for portraiture, nature and social commentary, has led to a desire to combine all the above - a form of story telling, commenting on everything from global warming to science fiction, trying to capture the current zeitgeist. The sky is a pretty good character in its own right or green screen for an entirely different story. I like how it is both abstract and literal.

What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
I don’t really have an answer for this one - it’s more about what people tell me they see in the work that often surprises me.

Tell us more about your creative process...

There are two concurrent processes. The first involves taking my own photographs, in so far as this is possible, and the second involves a lot of internet sourcing, news watching, general curiosity about what’s going on out there. I know when I’ve found what I need when I can’t sleep, because my mind literally refuses to switch off. Then there is the actual painting, which can take a day or two, or weeks. Sometimes years of revisiting. I’d sum up my process as extremes of either manic activity or procrastination.

What drives you as an artist?
You have this vision in your head that you wish to manifest into reality - it’s the greatest feeling when this actually happens - pure….everything.

Do you have a favourite or most meaningful work?
From the series Aria, “Der Hölle Rache Kocht In Meinem Herzen” (‘hells vengeance boils in my heart’). It was painted with such ease - no conflict or hair pulling - and just made me immediately happy when it was done.

What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?

I would say the works that I’ve started recently, are making me really excited. I have yet to achieve my greatest achievement.

What are your aspirations for the future?

I would like to study further at some point and complete a Master’s degree. I would really like to have that time and environment to just really think about my work and develop a number of ideas …. see them to their endgame.