It has been so rewarding to engage with such talented South African artists and to see how they represent their love of their home which boasts such diversity and richness in culture. I recently interviewed Marie Stander who is an artist representative of the South African spirit of Ubuntu, which is the spirit of community and the understanding that’ I am because we are.’ In discussion with Marie, she explained how she gains inspiration from her rural home town of Jamestown and how she merges her love of art with her love of community through giving back to the many muses of her work. She also gave insight into how she imparts her intuitive art process to her students.
“I was born an artist!’” Marie proclaimed as she cannot remember a time when she was not creating and feels blessed to have always been in an environment that honed her talent. While growing up, her parents had always supported her creative endeavours which has been continued through the support of her husband and children, with her son collaborating in her artistic process.
Marie began as an expressive painter. However, when the blessing of her new son came along, she had less time to paint and go through the process of cleaning brushes. So then began her drawing journey. Marie had less time to create but needed to get in her art fix each day, and drawing was the perfect way to do that. Being a very tactile person, charcoal became the medium of choice as unlike pencil or graphite she could use her hands to smear and create.
“I did landscapes and commission work when I was younger but it doesn’t give me as much satisfaction as the portraits, that’s my kick. I love people and am fascinated by them. One would sometimes find people who say why would I hang a portrait of some random man in my house, and it's not what it's about. There is usually something you associate with it or it touches an emotive string…When you look at it you can be moved to tears. Portraits can be touching and when I achieve that with my pieces I feel like I've achieved what I needed to do.”
Marie explained that it’s much easier to make a shell of a face but putting in the person's emotion and inner soul is challenging. She always tries to invite her portrait muses into her studio when she is in the process of or has completed a portrait. Their reaction is always priceless. Specifically with the man who is the muse of “Abdol with praying hands.” Who despite his very hard life has remained very spiritual.
Moving to Jamestown with a different cultural background to the general population of the town wasn't an issue and they were welcomed with open arms. Marie’s pieces are inspired by the people of her community.
“There are stories around me every single day.” -Marie
When walking her dogs throughout the town, Marie talks and engages with the people of the community who influence her art which has given her awareness of the hardships and struggles they face.
She is heavily involved in outreach and giving back to the people of the rural town and this is aided by the annual art auction hosted by the Marie Stander Art School. Her students' paintings are auctioned and the proceeds are used to help the community in the form of feeding schemes and providing educational and sporting equipment for the children of the community.
“You can't live here and not give back because you see so much poverty. We started in 2001 and were able to build jungle gyms for the children in the community in that first year. It’s a very huge project apart from my teaching and my own work. But it is essential work, it’s a very transparent auction.”
She has an intuitive approach when teaching her students.
“I teach them to look, they work with the right side of the brain, I don’t do gridding or projecting with my students. I want to teach them that they can go outside and draw a tree or a person. “
Marie and her students work often with live models. They are taught to work with comparative drawing, positive and negative space and using measurement by a finger. Marie instils in her students that to create amazing art takes hard work and a lot of concentration. She explains, you cannot have a glass of wine and think that you will make a masterpiece in one night. She also teaches them how to conceptualise before looking for visual imagery.
Alongside her teaching, Marie also published two books with poems accompanying her charcoal drawings. It was a new year's resolution for her to publish a book as her charcoal drawings print well. With the help of sponsorship from Sanlam(an Insurance Company), and creative assistance from Monica Ross(committee member at Rust-en-Vrede Gallery), she was able to publish two books titled “Onse Mense” and “Onse Mense Twee” (Our People and Our People Two in Afrikaans). Monica Ross assisted in finding poems to accompany her already completed drawings and they looked for poets from all around South Africa to find poems that would complement her pieces. Some poets asked her about the background of the models whereas others wrote poems at face value however, were incredibly able to bring to life to the message each portrait conveyed. The inspiration behind the title “Our People” is how it is a homage to her community and the people who inspire her every day. They are on display within the community and she always gives out free copies to children.
When it comes to creating her pieces, Marie has a huge grounding in model work and it took many years for her to adjust to working from photographs. Although on some occasions the models are able to come into her studio, she usually begins her process of creating portraits with a photograph of someone who inspires her, making sure to learn their story before creating their portrait. She then styles and conceptualises before creating her art piece.
Marie on creating pieces inspired by her community. “I think it was a very natural progression because I live here, these people are so part of my life. The realists paint what they see, what touches them. I’ll draw a story that I may have heard in the news that touches or upsets me then I’ll get a model to portray that story. Universal themes get projected in the portrayal of the people I love so much in my community.”
Marie explains her intentional use of colour in some of her pieces which are usually in black and white
“I often work with an image with an object that is saying something about them. I add colour to accentuate and emphasise the meaning of it. It is a bit of a fun part however it’s well thought through when I use colour. “
Marie believes that living in South Africa has influenced her work and believes that the country’s art is at a worldwide standard if not better than some international art she has seen.
“The colour, the brightness, the drama and juxtaposition of everything. I visited New York and saw the art there and thought our work was just as good, if not better.”
Marie has started a solo body of work influenced by how we still hold onto hope despite the craziness that goes on in the world. She portrays that in her pieces by using large groups of figures which are more expressive and suggestive with one figure more realism. A single image amongst the craziness. This body of work will move away from her figurative work. She plans to always make types of artwork that inspire her at the moment and is interested to explore sculpture work and ceramics in the future.