Deidre Maree is a fine artist and art teacher based in Durban who paints landscapes in oil and acrylic, investigating the photographs she has taken and interpreting the memories of what she has seen in those places.
The very personal act of witnessing and recording is then expressed through a manipulation of compositional elements to demonstrate a response to space, colour, light and form. By representing the natural and emotional world with dignity the painting becomes a description of both the physical and metaphysical, and a reflection of a state of being.
We asked Deidre some questions about her painting, teaching and her love of running.
Hello Deidre, thanks for chatting to us!
Firstly, tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you became an artist?
I'm in my fifties and married without children. Except for a period of ten years - when I was in Pietermaritzburg studying and then working, I have lived in Durban. But, I spend as much time as I can in a small town in the Central Karoo where my husband and I have an old mud-brick house that requires our fond attention regularly.
As a child I was forever doodling and drawing on any surface I could find. It was a natural progression from matric art to a tertiary education in the arts. I attended the then University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree with History of Art as a major, followed by a Higher Diploma in Education. I have taught art to primary school children for almost 25 years. With the fortunate change in my employment status (I became a part–time art teacher at the beginning of 2009) I was able to pursue my other passion more fully - painting. In the years since I became a part-time teacher I have taken part in many exhibitions.
Tell us a bit more about the artist / art teacher balance...
I teach art to Grade 1 to Grade 7 pupils at a small private school three days a week, on the remaining weekdays I am a painter. For me, it is a perfect balance between quiet and noise, freedom and structure, solitude and the busy-ness of managing and educating young children, internalising and giving.
Also, the children teach me to view the world differently, since they delight in the present, and the process. Their fascination at discovering their world forces me, the task-focused adult, to slow down and share in their wonder.
You paint evocative South African landscapes. How do you decide which locations to paint and what draws you to a place the most?
In a way, the locations present themselves to me. On our lengthier stays in the Karoo we travel down by car. In our search for routes that avoid the main highways we often journey along unfamiliar roads and passes. These road trips are an important aspect to my painting preparation since I take hundreds of photographs along the way. I fell in love with the Karoo on our very first visit there - after more than ten years of returning to it, my appreciation for the splendour of its vast, stark beauty continues to grow. I think in all the locations I choose to photograph and then to paint - whether it be in the Karoo, or along a dense, urban, running route in Durban - there is a constant in my search for an overlooked beauty. It may be found in formal elements like the quality of the light, the subtlety of colour variation, the drama of contrast, or in the poignancy of the subject matter - a forgotten toy, a track that speaks of possibilities, an abandoned tennis court in a dying town ....
You sometimes speak about your work as an investigation into the medium of oil paint - but do you have any other favourite mediums?
I brought my acrylic paints back from the Karoo at the beginning of last year and impulsively began a painting using them, with the idea to finish in oils....I've been painting in acrylic ever since. The investigation remains the same as with oil paint - a search for a fluent painting vocabulary that acknowledges the dual significance of the image and the painting process. The painted solution to a visual reference takes different forms along my painting journey. Through constant dialogue with the current medium of choice a rich, truly crafted, painterly surface is sought.
What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
I aim to create paintings that require no explanation nor an artist's statement. Through compositional elements and paint, I strive to create pieces that transform the overlooked, the plain, and even the ugly - I hope to evoke an emotional response. I am told that the images I use are sometimes indifferent, but for me, it's not the photograph that is important - it's the investigation and interpretation that results in a work that resonates.
Which living or dead artist would you most like to meet?
I can't choose between Rembrandt or Jenny Saville.
My favourite brush is a flat, shortish-haired, hard brush. I often feel like I'm sculpting when I paint - the marks I make build up or cut-away the form of the image.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
Most days begin with a four am wake-up and a day-greeting, blissful run. Then, three days a week, a frenetic get-ready for school dash (I leave home at about 7am) and a busy day teaching children aged between 5 and 13 years. On the other two days you will either find me working alone at home in my studio, or with a group of other painters in a nearby shared-space studio, with my mentor and friend Grace Kotze
If you couldn't be an artist, what would you do?
A full-time art teacher, or a stylist.
Where can we find you outside of the studio?
On the road, running or travelling, in my art room at school, in my Karoo garden.
Does your love of running influence or inspire your art?
Absolutely. Running is my day-dreaming time - it's when I get to think, create and plan. The pace allows me to consider all I see along the way as a potential art lesson, or painting. In sourcing material for possible art lessons I am also constantly forced to reinterpret what I observe to make it accessible to my pupils. This reinterpretation translates into my own work, since for both the lesson and the painting, it's not what I have observed and recorded but the interpretation, or investigation of that image that results in a work that resonates.
Do you have a favourite running spot/route?
I love running in the Karoo - no traffic, no traffic lights or busy intersections, and just the sound of my breathing, my feet on the gravel road and the occasional bird. A brilliant blue sky overhead and Karoo veld dotted with sheep, windmills, (a tortoise or buck, if you're lucky) as far as you can see. In the city, where I do most of my training, I don't have a favourite route, but do have favoured routes for hill, speed or distance training. And then there is the Friday morning beach promenade run, which is more an excuse to have the best ever cappuccino from the Coffee Guys at Ushaka...
On that note, what’s your go-to coffee order?
What’s your favourite musical jam?
I grew up in the eighties, so remain essentially a "rock chick" with favourites like Franz Ferdinand and the White Stripes. However, in my studio I gravitate towards music of the seventies and even earlier. While working on a collection for a group show I listened solidly for several months to the albums of Joan Armitrading and eventually felt that her lyrics and sounds so infiltrated my painting process that they were echoed in the marks I painted and the titles I chose.
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
I have been given so much good advice! Perhaps, the best advice is not to work in isolation - the time I spend painting with like-minded people teaches me something new each time we get together.
Could you recommend an artist to follow on Instagram?
I have a few to recommend -