In the Studio with Marie-Adèle de Villiers

We asked Marie-Adèle de Villiers some questions about herself and her art-making process, and joined her at her home studio to learn about her fascination with mountains.

Introduce yourself - who are you and what is your background?
I’m a Cape Town based artist focusing on drawing and painting, with a Fine Arts degree from Stellenbosch University. I produce ink line drawings of mountains, with an interest in time and process, and with a deep love for the ultimate Creator God, by whom and for whom I exist and strive to create. I was born in Stellenbosch in 1991 to my nature conservationist parents, Atherton & Riki de Villiers, and I have an older brother, Barry. I’m married to Jean-Philippe Engel and I believe and trust in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I unsurprisingly love nature and animals, and enjoy hiking, making (and eating) tasty food and good stories.
Favourite medium to work in?
Currently ink on paper. I also enjoy working with oil paint on canvas or board, but haven’t done that in awhile!
What themes do you pursue?
Time, process, space, the concept of the sublime & mountains as these ancient wonders in an unceasing flow of representations, standing as witnesses to the eternal God who made them and existed before them.
Why are you fascinated with mountains?
They are like the grandfathers of nature - and I believe that they are an absolute gift from the ultimate Creator. They communicate and aid our understanding of His sublimity so effectively.
I am attracted to mountains mainly because I read them as sublime. Throughout history people have tried to make sense of mountains, and in this process have attributed to them readings such as Edmund Burke’s concept of the sublime, and Thomas Burnet’s idea of mountains as repulsive scars and catastrophes of nature. Over time people have had similar fascinations and musings about mountains, and so we become part of a wealth of information that leads and inspires the reading, experience and communication of mountains as terrifyingly beautiful, wise, magnificent and overwhelming.
As the grandfathers of nature, they have witnessed much more than any human or animal could ever hope to - if you want to entertain that thought. And I suppose it therefore makes sense that when I am in the mountains or see mountains around me I feel a sense of perspective, a feeling of something greater, familiarity and timelessness. They seem constant and close, but are also swept into years and layers of readings and representations, which in turn play a big role in making them what they are to us – and this also generates a feeling of distance.
To me, mountains are a play between something very consistent and firm, and something very active and ever-progressing, a play between something repulsive and something so incredibly attractive, they are real and a fantasy, outside of us, and all in the mind – all at once. Whether the ‘they’ is the representations which make them what they appear to us, or the real thing that are a magnificent gift from God – they are the most amazing source for art making.

 06.04.2018 - Drakensberg
Drawing / 32 x 28 cm
How many years an artist?
Four years as an art student, three years on the side and about eight months full-time.
What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
Nothing more that isn’t visible in what is available (these answers, my drawings, artist statements, interview, video, instagram etc.). I also have a website in the pipeline through which I aim to communicate as a whole what is important in a neat collection.
What are some of your favourite mountains to draw/paint?
The Jonkershoek mountains, Table Mountain & the Drakensberg mountains.

Tell us about your studio. Location, clean, cluttered, big, small, etc?
Very small and ordered. This year I've been operating on a desk in our lounge/bedroom in our tiny granny flat in Claremont. My inks and brushes are on my desk, other materials are underneath in the cupboard and my drawings are layered on my desk. I haven't had the luxury of a studio space since my days studying Fine Arts, which has also forced me to make smaller, less messy drawings.
Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?
My preference is to work whilst listening to music, but sometimes I want to draw in silence. I also occasionally listen to talks while I work.
Where can we find you outside of the studio?
I would love to say that you would find me travelling the world, away on a farm or in areas of vast nature, on a horse trek, exploring wine farms and visiting a bunch of galleries and exhibitions but the reality is that on a day to day basis I’m seldom anywhere other than my studio/home! Other weekly places include being out around Table Mountain, Rondebosch Common or Keurboom Park running or hiking with my husband and our dog to get a taste of the outdoors in a city environment, Bible Study & St Stephen’s Bible Church which is also my husband’s workplace, shopping for supplies or at braais & dinners with friends and family - we also often find ourselves back in Stellenbosch.
If you couldn't be an artist, what would you do?
Not too clear on that one – something still art related or possibly something involving women’s ministry, cooking, writing or animals.
27.03.2018 - Table Mountain
Drawing / 30 x 25 cm
What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

"Keep knocking at the door."


What does your art process entail?
The process for a commission, an exhibition piece, ‘A Mountain In A Day’ drawing or a drawing for one of my other series are all slightly different. Generally it involves experiencing and capturing a specific mountain or searching through my library of mountain images, photo editing, conceptualizing (thinking, reading, writing), deciding on paper and size, paper trimming, positioning the paper, image, ink, ink water & brushes, praying and then going through my drawing process: Dunking the brush, wiping, splashing, dabbing, layering lines & marks and jotting down when I start and stop working – forming aesthetic elements I like to include in the drawing to remind one that it went through a process and is a product of a specific context and time. It’s something very small, very tame, like a drop from a bucket, pointing to great things like mountains and time that give a sense of perspective, and which in turn allow one to humbly marvel at one who must be even greater.
What tools/materials couldn’t you function without?
I think you can make a plan and make things work most of the time. Thankfully I don’t need much, just some ink, a decent brush and some good quality paper. However, the finest brush I have at the moment, Fabriano Artistico Hot Press Paper, my cellphone and my laptop are probably currently my most appreciated tools/materials.
How do you overcome fear, insecurities or artist's block?
Taking a moment to re-center. Certain music can be quite helpful, or having a cup of coffee or tea. Being in the mountains can also excite me again. I regularly share with my husband who is a great support. It’s also important to remember the support and encouragement I have received in the past. But more importantly, since I intend to work under the Lordship of Christ seeking to honour him in my work, prayer also forms a big part of my process – so it’s a great blessing to be able to turn to God, share with him and ask for help and guidance when I’m struggling.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
I’m still young and fairly new to this myself, so I don’t have much to offer – but some things I feel strongly about are hard work, sincerity and perseverance in this tough industry, being willing to possibly have to sacrifice a certain lifestyle to be able to pursue art, to not just go with the flow or make what others want to see, but humbly sharing what’s important to you whilst at the same time being open to critique, having people that you can talk to about your work, fellow artists, loved ones etc. and developing a brand. Keep producing, keep pushing & keep sharing. Keep knocking at the door.


Like A Drop From A Bucket, Called By Name
Drawing / 76 x 43 cm


Watch the film 'In the Studio with Marie-Adèle de Villiers' here: