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 nude phase.
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 medium.
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.
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