Archive for August, 2008

Biophylia in Art

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

While looking around the site I have noticed the repeated presence of images from the natural world – plant life, animals, landscape, and as these are areas in which I also tend to specialise I found myself wondering why they are such perennial themes.

One has only to cast the most cursory glance over the history of world art across the widest span of times and cultures to find that the representation of the natural world (as opposed to human made objects and lifestyle) is by far the dominant presence. This is not to say that there is not great beauty in other subjects, in the non figurative, in modern and urban art, but something in Nature captures the human soul and draws us back, again and again.

Moreover, there is a strong and frequent link between the representation of the Natural world and religious, mythological and psychological themes. From the earliest cave paintings, created as magical acts to summon the required food animals; through the Greek, Celtic and Egyptian mythological representation of animals to the sympathetic and allegorical landscape backgrounds of medieval and early modern art, it is as if the natural world is a gigantic mirror, reflecting back to us our cultural preconceptions.

When one considers a painting like W Holman Hunt’s "The Scapegoat" for example, one of the most striking things is the utter pathos, grief, desolation captured in the goat’s expression. No human figure, nothing but the tortured colours of the landscape and the animal’s face serve to present an allegory of the whole Victorian mindset regarding religion, sin and shame.

Similarly, in the frequently analaysed "Last Supper" of Michaelangelo, what grips me is the deathly mood of the landscape seen behind the figures. If one analysed that portion alone one might guess that death and betrayal were central themes. The emotions of the subjects are vividly daubed in the colours of the canvas.

One might consider this a homocentric projection, for we, in the "Ecological Age" realise of course that "Mother Nature" is a great beast of uncertain temper, one to be feared, nutured and revered but never tamed. Is it a nonsense to see our mind, hearts and souls reflected back to us through the natural world? If so then it is a truly ancient one, as old as the first anthropomorphised deities of wind, thunder, water, sun.

Even in this modern age, where the rise of angry urban art sells for vast sums, there are a larger number of artists than ever taking Nature as their predominant theme, from the traditional watercolour landscape to colossal sculptures of semi abstracted plant forms. Reading the ‘Artists and Illustrators’ professional periodical recently I was interested to see thatin their ‘Artist of the Year’ competition, the Landscape, Animal and Botanical sections all contained (and were won by) very traditional and highly skilled watercolours and oils. The same periodical contained coverage of some vast semi abstract sculptures by Christopher Le Brun, one of a beautifully modelled horse flanked by gigantic discs, giving in a Graeco-Egyptian, mythologised appearance. I was recently captivated by the work of Judith K MacMillan, a photographer whose X ray images of plants capture a numinous sensitivity that borders on the sacred.

So what does it mean, this love of Nature, this addictive persistance of the Natural world in art? Could it be that even as we have, for the main, enclosed ourselves in urban environments and abandoned the wilderness, our hearts cry out with the loss? For me, when I see (or paint) a natural image now I approach it with something like reverence, asking myself "How does this stir my soul? Why am I moved by this? What am I trying to learn?

African Themes from SouthAfricanArtists.com – July 2008

Friday, August 8th, 2008

It shouldn’t go without saying that the raw energy of Africa, for any of have set foot upon the continent, is palpable. You can travel all over the world and you will not find anything with the same feel to it. It is as standing where Mother Earth gives birth – it is alive, vibrating, clear, dangerous – every sensation that takes us back to our beginnings. It defies us to tame it, if we were to even be so naive as to contemplate it.

This time our selection draws from this primeval energy and brings a small selection of works which connect us to the spirits of Africa.

Try these out for size:


"Elephant at Sunset, Chobe"

by Dane Willers

Dane is a truly talented landscape painter and his works are consistently popular on SouthAfricanArtists.com.

In this piece he superbly captures the scene at sunset which evokes in all who see it the sounds and smells hanging in the warm evening air.

He works tirelessly in the subject areas he loves and gives so much back into the community. These are works of the highest quality.

Benjamin is another artist with whom we have worked for many years and whose works now adorn walls all around the world.

His style, as exemplified here, is forever upbeat – invariably a study of groups of people in everyday situations yet these are works which are alive and vibrant. We are transported across time and space to be among these characters. Can’t you just feel that hot sand between your toes?


"Soccer, Muizenberg Beach, W Cape"

by Benjamin Mitchley


"Muse 3: Vamp Zeb"

by Carl Verster

You wouldn’t think that Zebras could offer the scope for texture and technique that they do but this work by newly-listed artist, Carl Verster, just oozes character.

We have a window onto the soul of this beautiful creature as he holds our gaze and Carl brings to it his own great eye for detail and shading. Part of a series of Zebra studies, this and any of its counterparts would make a great display in any home or office.

"There is no must in art because art is free."
– Wassily Kandinsky

New Artists

We have talented new artists coming on the site all the time and in recent weeks we have welcomed the following who have already listed a number of excellent works:

"A good painter has two main objects to paint, man and the intention of his soul. The former is easy, the latter hard as he has to represent it by the attitude and movement of the limbs."
- Leonardo da Vinci