Inspiration from Subject

When did you first realise you were artistic?

Growing up in my father’s sculpting studio—there was always an opportunity to be creative. And it feels as if it has just always been that way.

Did you study art?

I went to an art school, but I didn’t study art.

Talk us through your process. What do you do from start to finish?

Well, I work in various mediums, but when I paint there are usually a few unfinished canvases in my studio that I work on simultaneously. It’s a slow process to get them to the point where they are finished, but it gives me time to reflect on each piece as the paintings develop.

What is it that inspires you?

It’s always difficult to answer that question. But lately I’ve started to realise it’s my subject or model that inspires me. Or at least starts the creative process in my head. 

Talking about subjects, your latest body of work Strata focuses strongly on the Cape Malay woman. Why so? 

When I moved to the Cape I started to paint Cape Malay woman and have since become interested in the identity formation of the Cape Malay people. I think colonialism not only changed the way people live but also their genetics. It’s the mixture of cultures that interests me.

What’s the one compliment about your work that has stuck with you?

That Laurence Graff—renowned art collector and chairman of Graff Diamonds—chose me as a young artist, and still keeps collecting my work. I feel blessed. I could not have gotten a bigger opportunity than this. He is an amazing patron of the arts and it really helped to propel my career as a young artist.

How has your work evolved?

My work has moved from a very classical and monotone palette to a completely spontaneous and colourful one.

Do you think your UK audience differs from your SA audience?

Not much. But I think Europeans notice the African quality in my work, or at least the people I paint, more. But at the same time there should be a universal idea to it, and I think or hope most people can connect with it.

What local artists do you admire?

Frikkie Eksteen, Wim Botha, Matthew Hindley … and lots more.

Who would you like to paint your portrait?

I would be too freaked out to have a realistic portrait of myself, so a safe answer would be Picasso.

If you could enjoy a meal with anyone, past or present—who would it be?

I don’t know … Andy Warhol, Steve Jobs. I think it should be a big table.

Anything exciting in the pipeline?

This year is very exciting. In July I am doing a solo at Everard Read in their Centenary year of being in existence. And on the cards are group shows in Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Miami and the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Lionel lives in Somerset West, and has a studio in Strand. When he’s not working, he and his wife, Vasti, spend all their time with their three-year-old daughter, Vera.