By Kari Collard
How did you first become interested in art?
In pre-primary school we were given a project: follow insects around the garden and map their movement—as best we could at four years old—with crayon on recycled paper. This is a memory that’s crystal clear to me and I believe this is when my love for art (and insects) was born. It was so much fun, and I’ll do the same with my kids one day.
You toured Europe with your art class in high school. What did you learn while abroad?
Before the tour to Europe, art was just a subject I was going to pass. But seeing the pieces I studied in my art history class hanging in front of me was the most awe-inspiring experience of my life. Art became a reality to me.
And that meant after school, you went into art?
I studied Visual Arts at Cape College for two years. Then I heard Ralph Krall was looking for an artist to do perspective drawings for interior design and decorating, and I approached him. Because I was so young, he was sceptical, but I assured him I was a fast learner and he would not regret hiring me. This was where my journey as a professional artist began.
Did interior design influence the way you paint?
Art needs to resonate with the environment in which it’s going to hang. Once you understand decorating, you appreciate the part art has in helping people turn a house into a home. A painting is not just a pretty picture you create but also an object that has to fit into a home. Interestingly, you also understand the sales of your work better. The client must absolutely love a painting and have the right place and space on a wall to hang it.
What do you do when you are not working?
I help raise awareness about the plight of our rhinos. I recently wrote a blog for National Geographic’s Project Noah about the decline in rhino numbers in SA. It was published on their website on World Rhino Day on 22 September 2012. In future I intend to donate paintings for this cause and combine my passion for conservation with my art. I also enjoy photographing wildlife, from the tiniest insects to Southern Right whales breaching in False Bay.
How do you stay inspired?
I draw most of my inspiration from nature. My husband joins me for long walks at Cape Point Nature Reserve, Kirstenbosch Gardens and Table Mountain. I also photograph our local fynbos and endemic insects found in those places. Colour is what inspires me most. By turning to the insect world, you never run out of ideas for colour combinations. I’m also intrigued by the style and subject matter of other artists. I visit many galleries and exhibitions.
Tell us more about your “From the Ashes” body of work?
This is my most personal work to date. Canvases filled with my deepest feelings, thoughts and concerns. Each piece is about humanity’s influence on the natural world. I constantly ponder about progress and what effect it is having on nature. Will we find the balance needed to secure the survival of all species?
African women are very prominent in this work. What draws you to them?
I’ve been painting African women since 2001. Their meaning is forever escaping and evolving. In the beginning I was drawn to their mysterious beauty and strong will. To me, the African woman is a timeless symbol of courage and perseverance. In my “From the Ashes” collection, she has become the symbol of humanity. All humans originate from Africa. She is the unedited version of us all.
You’ve painted quite a few murals. Talk us through the process.
I approach a mural the same way as painting on canvas. I do the basic outlines with a dark paint, followed by the first undercoat. Then layer upon layer of paint until I finally reach the point when I can add highlights and deep shadows. To keep the mural safe from the elements, it has to get a strong outdoor varnish.
What’s the most challenging aspect of being a South African artist?
South Africa is blessed with so many brilliantly talented artists. I would say the biggest challenge is to stand out and establish oneself.
My first solo exhibition will be taking place at The Studio in Kalk Bay (http://thestudiokalkbay.co.za/Home.html) in April 2013. I will also have an exhibition on our rhinos later this year.
Deziree lives with her husband in a cul-de-sac on Fish Hoek’s mountainside. They have four dogs and five cats, some of which came by choice and others by default. They love to spend time in their garden with their animals. From grooming to playing, there’s never a dull moment at—what they call—the Smiths’ Zoo. To find out more about Deziree, visit www.dezireefinearts.co.za.