Schalk van der Merwe

“My work is about life. This life. The life I dream off. The life I regret. Eternally complex. Never complete. Never explained. My art can reflect immense beauty or utter despair. I leave that up to the viewer to decide.“

How long have you been painting? Since then, what has changed and what has stayed the same?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been involved in some form of creativity. From acting in school plays, drawing, painting, studying graphic design to singing in indie bands in the 90’s, I’ve always found a way to express myself.  At the end of the 90’s, I started a 15-year career as an internationally awarded creative in some of the top advertising agencies in South Africa. In 2012 I realized that I had to find a new way of showcasing my creativity. One that would allow me to express my Truth in an uncompromising way. I guess that has been the biggest change. Honest, truthful expression, but ultimately, all of these experiences have shaped me into the artist I am today.

Your work seems to come from a creative flow that battles the risk of overthinking in art. What does this tell us of you attitude towards painting? How do you manage to find a middle ground between an excessive control of your creativity and a total unawareness?

In my view, creativity should not be solely reliant on a cognitive process. Over-thinking can get in the way of originality and spontaneity. Goal orientated work will always be master to the goal itself and can only be set free once one surrenders to a blank canvas to see what it has to reveal. My process is simple: I disconnect from the world, don’t think about “achieving” something, find a quiet, or chaotic space, in my mind and immerse myself in it. Once I have achieved this, I’m no longer in control of the outcome.

I constantly strive to create without the unnecessary burden of expectations. This, however, does not mean I don’t think about my art. I spend a lot of time reflecting and questioning my work, but while I’m in the process of physically applying materials to the canvas, I try an be present and open to whatever gets revealed to me at that point in time.

"Bemused Abused"
"Mirror mirror"

Looking at your portraits means for the viewer accessing to strong feelings.. What are you trying to convey?

Every artist has their own message and agenda. For some their Truth can be found in highly conceptual pieces, where others find it in social and cultural commentary. Ultimately, I’m influenced by the world and the community I live in today. A world vastly different from the one I knew as a child. A world where instant gratification is the order of the day and everything seems accelerated, impermanent and often meaningless. It feels chaotic and I find myself strongly influenced by this. Modern-day consensus thinking often doesn’t encourage Truthful expression. Society expects us to remain ordered and has little tolerance for the natural ebb and flow of human emotions. As a result, these emotions often become filtered, suppressed, or remain hidden away in dark corners of the subconscious, never to be explored, discussed or expressed in any way. My work is about life. This life. The life I dream off. The life I regret. Eternally complex. Never complete. Never explained. My art can reflect immense beauty or utter despair. I leave that up to the viewer to decide.

What would you say is the main emotion that leads you in your creative process? Are there some routes you have noticed that facilitate your capability to express yourself?

Brutal honesty. Every day reveals something unexpected. For me, no painting is the same. It’s a constant battlefield of emotions, ranging from doubt to complete acceptance and ecstasy. My portraits reflect a vast range of emotions and, I hope, have the potential to evoke the same within the viewer. If my art can connect with someone on an emotional level, I have achieved enough.

A piece of advice you would have liked to receive earlier in your career?

I actually received great advice from a very prominent gallery owner in Cape Town, very early on in my career: Use quality materials. Stay humble. Don’t get complacent. Cultivate a strong work ethic. Be professional at all times. Get your work onto peoples walls and into private collections.

An artist you want to give a shout out to? Why?

Jenny Saville. Every now and then an artist comes along that changes everything. For me, Saville is one. She essentially changed the way artists approach painting. Her style and method have spawned and inspired an entire generation. Her strong celebration of the feminine in her gigantic artworks is immensely powerful in a non-contrived way. The scale, technique and subject matter of her works are as relevant today as it was at her first show at The Saatchi Gallery in London. A truly remarkable artist who has changed the way we view the female form in art.

Next and upcoming projects?

I have 2 solo shows later this year in London and Los Angeles. Details of which I will announce soon on my social media platforms.


Credits: Schalk van der Merwe

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