In the studio with Zaan Claassens

7 Nov 2015
South African artist Zaan Claasens

Favourite material to work with?

Most certainly clay: I love its tactile earthiness, its maleable nature and its pleasing coolness. It is water based, it is primitive, it is the earth, it is elemental. Dust to dust.

Sculpture by Zaan Claassens
Clay maquette for 'Medusa'

What themes do you pursue?
I am currently painting water. In Photography it is The City and with my Sculpture it is the female form.

Brilliant Reflections by Zaan Claassens
Oil painting 'Brilliant Reflection'

How many years an artist?
My entire life really. My earliest memories are art making memories at three and four years old. I received my first commission when I was sixteen, and so I go, following my dream.

Contemporary artist Zaan Claassens

What should people know about your art that they can’t tell from looking at it?
For me, this is a rather absurd question. I do not try to hide anything in my art, there is no arcane symboIism.  My intention is to create beautifully crafted and highly detailed artworks that are uplifting and that add value to living spaces and peoples lives.

Magical Ocean painting by Zaan Claassens
Oil painting 'Magical Ocean'

Which living or dead artist would you most like to meet?
During my teens I was in love with Vincent, Ansel Adams, Escher, Gauguin, Goya and Gustav Klimt. My infatuations also included El Greco, Vassily Kandinsky, Miro, Pablo Picasso, Rembrandt, Rodin, Freud and finally Frida Khalo, Georgia O’Keeffe and Louise Bourgouis. I became absorbed in their lives, their loves, their quests, their pain and their passion. In more recent years I’ve been exposed to the works of  Norwegian artists, Vigland and Odd Nerdrum.
I really would not be able to choose. It would be like choosing between chocolate and chocolate.

Sculpture by Candian artist Vigland
Sculptural work by Vigland

Tell us about your studio. Location, clean, cluttered, big, small, etc?
I am fortunate enough to have two studios: one in London, Ontario and one in Cape Town.  They are both “home studios” and are both upstairs. The one in Camps Bay over looks the Atlantic Ocean and in London I’m in an attic with many skylights right next to a massive Hackberry tree, which feels like being in a tree house. It’s not always been like this however, I’ve had times where I’ve slept on the floor in the basement so that I can have the bedroom as a studio. I’ve also used my dining room and eaten in the kitchen.
Before I start  new work I always clean and organise my studio space. Part of this is prep and part of it is propulsion. Once I start a new work the space can get cluttered, messy and dirty, but by then my focus is on the new work, not the space. I love my studio spaces. They are beautifully scented by a  mix of geranium oil and turps and linseed oil. They are heavenly places of peace, tranquility and light.

Zaan Claassen's studio in Canada
Studio space in Ontario,Canada

Zaan Claassen's studio in Cape Town
Studio space in Cape Town, South Africa

Art school or self-taught?
I’ve had a healthy mix of both. Art was my favourite subject at school in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. I spent 1988 in the USA as an exchange student where I took a course at Miami Univeristy in Textile Design with Susan Christopherson. I returned to South Africa in 1989 and in 1992 completed a BA in Graphic Design at the Universiy of Stellenbosch. Here some of my lecturers included, Paul Emsley for drawing, Pienaar van Niekerk, Victor Honey, Sue Williamson. After graduating I’ve always taken Life Drawing classes, wherever I found my self in the world: Keith Howard in Peace River, Canada 1994-1997; The Art’s Project, London, Ontario 2001-2004. I’ve also explored some courses in Arts Business and found these to be particularly helpful. My sculpting has been entirely self taught except for a mould making course with Brendahan Dickerson at Ruth Prowse Art School in Cape Town in 2011. Because I am an adventurous and curious individual I continue to explore new mediums and techniques. The most recent being stainless steel.

stainless steel work by Zaan Claassens
Stainless steel work

Do you prefer to work with music or in silence?
It depends on the level of concentration required, the time of day and on other peripheral noises such as the barking of dogs. I love music and listen to a very wide range of music. My 19 year old son also keeps me up to speed so my music playlists are always being updated and refreshed. Sometimes an evening of painting turns into a party.

Favourite brush?
Windsor and Newton’s MONARCH range, flat or bright, size 6

art materials used by Zaan Claassens

Where can we find you out side of the studio?
In, on or near water, surfing, paddling or taking photographs. Gardening, renovating, reading, trail running, hiking. Driving to Stellenbosch to see my son and checking in at the foundry. In my partner’s arms.

 If you couldn't be an artist, what would you do?
A Sniper.

Interests other than art?
Music, foreign movies, eating, reading, wildlife, gardening, sewing, museums, travel, dancing, shooting, off the wall humour.

Fish supper

What do you collect?
Books, bones, shells, sculls, stones, fossils, seeds, nests, feathers, hearts, money, music


What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
“Wif talent like you, who need job?”

Are there messages within your work?
As you find them.

Canadian landscape

What does your art process entail?
It starts off with a little seed: something seen, something heard, something felt. Then I go about how best to portray/convey/express. A lot of water, fertilizer and sunshine is needed. Some peace and quiet, time to think, time to research, time to contemplate, time to construct. Then there are the birthing pains; some irritations, some frustrations and invariable obstacles. And then an explosion followed pure bliss and the joy of harvest.

Nude artists model  bronze sculpture by Zaan Claassens
'Hair Maiden' bronze edition of 10

What are your inspirations?
Nature continues to inspire me and my current focus is on water and light and the interplay between them. I find magic in water. It is the detail within the detail that draws me in and enchants me.

Camps Bay scenery

What art materials couldn’t you live without?
Materials are versatile and interchangeable. It is the process that I could not live without. Many years of analyzing shapes, colours & textures and their subtle interplay allow me to quickly enter a meditative zone. Being in this zone is serene, peaceful & spiritual and so the creative process is food for my soul.

View Zaan's portfolio of available work