The more I paint, the more I leave unpainted.
An interview with Antoine de Villiers
|Antoine de Villiers grew up in South Africa, spent some time living in the
United Kingdom, and subsequently moved to the United States, where she lives now. She is a prolific painter with an elegant
style. I am pleased that she agreed to be the first artist to be interviewed
for Artist-Perspectives.com. — Editor
My first question is not about your artwork, but I'm really curious about
this. How did you get the nickname Antoine?
I’ve always been called by my middle name, Antoinette, and my father
gave me the nickname Antoine. I’ve actually thought of changing
it back to Antoinette since most people take Antoine for being a male.
Also my father's pronunciation of “Antwa” is changed by most
people to “Antwan” or even “Anton.” Anyway, I’ve
been signing my work Antoine since I was 14 so I cannot really imagine
changing it now.
Did you go to art school or were you self-taught?
My real art interest started with a wonderful art teacher in high school.
Thereafter I studied Graphic Design at the Potchefstroom University in
South Africa. It was not my first choice since I would have much rather
done fine art, but that was my home town university’s only art related
course. I have never formally studied fine art so I guess that makes me
self-taught to some extent.
Did you have a mentor?
Connie Pretorius, my high school art teacher was one of the most supportive
people ever to cross my path and definitely the one who influenced me
greatly to do what I do today.
When did you start your art career?
While studying I started doing commissions for friends and family and afterwards I continued painting full time.
How has your work evolved since then?
I had an almost super-realistic style at school, went abstract in my late
teens, figurative in my early twenties and now a bit of everything, but
mostly (nude) figurative and expressionistic work.
Why do you find figures to be interesting subject matter?
I often ask myself that same question. I think because there is nothing
more sensitive, powerful, and honest than the nude human figure.
What constitutes a captivating pose?
Very interesting question. The amount of poses possible by the human figure
is endless, but I always find myself strongly attracted to some more than
others. Although I’m often unaware of it at the moment of selection,
in hindsight I would notice certain themes through my selections. I am
often attracted to subtle poses emphasizing the vulnerability, emotionality
or "humanness" of the human form.
Who are your favorite artists and how do they influence your work (if at all)?
At school, I started admiring all super-realistic art, Michelangelo, Auguste
Rodin… When I was about 18, I studied Pollock and abstract expressionism
suddenly made a whole lot of sense. So while going through my teenage
crisis, being mad at the world, I started splattering my canvasses. Later
I went through a surreal phase and thought Max Ernst was the best thing
since sliced bread. Afterwards somewhere I got stuck on an expressionistic
You've lived on three continents. How have cultural influences impacted your work?
Thinking about it now, it probably had more of an effect than I
realized at the time. Being constantly in completely new surroundings
and circumstances has a way of keeping one on the edge and sometimes forcing
one to look deeper within for strength. Today I can see that the work
I created while living in the U.K. sometimes reflected the edge on which
I was living in very subtle ways. Lately while living and working in the
U.S., I’ve noticed warmer and brighter shades on my pallets than
ever before. So even while my first thought was "not much" when
asked how cultural influences impacted my work, when I look deeper it
most certainly has in more than one way. One creates from within and anything
that has an effect on oneself or even one’s state of mind flows
through the brush onto the canvas.
Where do you find inspiration?
Always a difficult question since it could be one of so many things. I
mainly paint what I experience at that moment, but most of the time something
inspired me to put those feelings on canvas. I absolutely love the beauty
of nature. My husband and I recently bought a little home on an exceptional
2.5 acre wooded lot and I have never been more inspired to add in my own
way to the beauty around me. In short I’ll say I find inspiration
in anything good, pure, honest, vulnerable, or beautiful.
How do you come up with ideas for artwork?
Most of the time it is not really me looking for ideas, but ideas finding
me and begging to be put on canvas/paper. I have never experienced "artist's
block," wondering what to paint, only the dilemma of what to paint
next. I wonder how I'll ever find time to capture all the visions going
through my head. The more I paint, the more I leave unpainted.
What is your favorite medium?
About 80% of my works are created in oils, which I would admit to being
my first love. Simultaneously I have a very strong belief in the role
that drawing plays in the fundamentals of what I do. I also believe that
drawing is not just part of the learning curve, but I value it to be a
skill crucial to keep current.
What is your favorite surface to paint on?
For many years I used to work mainly on board and wood with my oils and
loved the solid surface and it’s possibilities for texture, etc.
Lately almost all of my finished creations are shipped to their new homes.
For weight reasons, as well as the time of building frames — time
I prefer to spend in front of the easel — I turned to canvas. Because
of the sudden flexibility the change was hard for me at first, but also
exciting with new possibilities. Now I think it would be hard for me to
choose. I think the intention of the piece is what must determine the
How long does it typically take you to complete a finished work?
Typically my paintings take about two to six days.
What messages do you wish to communicate through your art?
I seek to complement the moments I encounter. I attempt to break down
life to its visual essentials and in so doing perhaps I can reveal a new
perspective. As far as specific analysis itself… I’d rather
leave that for the art critics.
What do you think separates good art from great art?
I think the principles of design, innovation, composition, theme, and
skill are very important, but I think the final proof lies in the eyes
of the beholder. In my eyes a great piece is something that touches someone
in some way.
Are you ever surprised at the reaction or interpretation people have about your artwork?
I have learned early not to have any expectations.
My aim is not to create something mainstream and definitely not to try
and please everyone. Therefore I know I will always get all kind of reactions.
One of my very first exhibitions was together with a big art festival
and there were large numbers of people walking through my exhibit. On
the first two days I placed myself at a desk and received lots of "nice
work" remarks from the leaving visitors. I felt frustrated not knowing
what they truly thought. On day three I started spending more time in
the exhibit rooms with my hands behind my back, looking up at the paintings
and blending in, overhearing the remarks.
Later I placed myself outside, sitting flat in the dirt by the door hiding behind
a book. That afternoon two elderly ladies walked in and I wondered to
myself what their reaction would be. When they came out I heard the one
saying to the other, "I would rather spend 20,000 on a decent artwork
than even consider taking this junk home." I knew she was honest
and appreciated that. A few minutes later two almost identical looking
ladies walked in, and upon their exit I was not sure what to expect. As
they walked passed me the one turned to the other and said, "By seeing
this, the whole festival was worth it." I smiled since I knew she
was just as sincere.
Which of your paintings are you most proud of?
It is really almost impossible for me to choose one painting above all
the others, perhaps like having to choose one child above the other.
Let me close with this question. How can one acquire your work?
The best place to view my portfolio and contact me is from my website.
Thank you for sharing your insights with us today, Antoine.
Facts at a Glance
|Antoine de Villiers
|Savannah, Georgia USA
Jaarsma Gallery, Waterbok Lane, Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Vincent Art Gallery, East London, South Africa.
Lewis Gallery, Main Road, Lewis, United Kingdom.
La Mostra Gallery, Mermaid Quay, Cardiff, United Kingdom.