An aspiring artist’s journey, from Kigali to Cape Town – Part two

Inspiring South African artists

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Irma Stern

I have been on a voyage of discovery over the last two and half years. I have discovered the thrill of transforming a blank canvas into an image. It started when my in-laws had their house renovated into something open and modern with expanses of white walls throughout. These spaces cried out for something to adorn them. My in-laws decided that perhaps I could help, as ‘real’ art costs money, and well, they thought I was kind of creative. ‘Paint us a picture!’ They said and bought me a huge canvas and some acrylic paint. I was way in over my head, but I relished the experience of creating and have not stopped painting since. I have taught myself and I am still learning with a little help from my friends, and the odd course here and there. Rwanda is an artist’s dream, with the clear light, array of colour and beautiful people. People going about everyday tasks that are a feast for the eye, like carrying a huge pile of bananas in a basket on your head, while dressed in colourful African prints. As I journey through this country I constantly see sights I want to paint, sights that compel me to say, ‘that would make a great painting!’ And so I paint the people of Rwanda doing what they do everyday. In a country that has lived through such hopelessness and pain in the past, I am drawn to paint faces full of hope and joy. But like any aspiring artist, no matter how stimulating the subject matter is just down the road, there are times when you hit a blank canvas and need inspiration.

June and July took me to South Africa, a country of extreme natural beauty and probably therefore, inspiring artists. I would like to introduce you to some of the artist I met and discovered on my way

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Marie Stander

Marie Stander

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‘Bahora girl’ – Irma Stern

Marie Stander is an Afrikaans artist, who lives very close to my in-laws in Jamestown near Stellenbosch. I first saw her work in a café in Graaff-Reinet and was instantly drawn to her desire to draw the people within her community. ‘Onse mense’, translated ‘our people’ is what she calls the people she draws. Her portraits and figure drawings are exquisite, taking careful note of every line of expression. I was also delighted to see her work at the Holden Manz Collection art gallery in Franschhoek, where she is currently exhibiting.

Irma stern

I visited the Irma Stern museum in Rosebank for the first time. Stern was born in South Africa in 1894, but traveled extensively in Europe and Africa. Her trips to Zanzibar and Congo in particular became subject matter for much of her art. I appreciate the exotic atmosphere of her paintings, and feel akin to her desire to capture the people of Eastern and Central Africa. Stern painted ‘Bahora girl’ a beauty from Zanzibar in 1945. This painting was sold in London for a staggering 2.4 million pounds in 2011, a record for a South African artist at the time. I have always been an admirer, so having the opportunity to visit her old home and see some of her paintings in the flesh was beyond fabulous.

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Philip Barlow

Philip Barlow

I had the privilege of visiting Philip Barlow in his studio in Noordhoek. Philip’s trademark is the circles of light that appear in most of his paintings, as well as the slightly hazy atmosphere he creates by painting from out of focus photographs. Philip works from photographs he takes himself, some of the scenes include figures and portraits, either in urban or beach settings. We spoke of the challenges of photographing people you have never met, in order to have that reference point. I spent an informative hour asking Philip all the questions I could think of and even plucked up the nerve to ask him to critique a few of my paintings.


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My portrait from Derric’s art class!

Derric van Rensburg

Partaking in the 3-day art course with Derric van Rensburg was a firm highlight of my time in South Africa. It was also conveniently located in Kleinmond where my in-laws just happen to have a beach house. So while I was painting the kids were happy at home with Daddy, Ouma and Oupa. Derric is a landscape painter, so totally out of my comfort zone, but what he taught me was to loosen up and create an impression. Derric has a very easy demeanor and is quite unpretentious considering his accomplishments as an artist. He paints with great ease, chirping and joking as he demonstrates. On our last day a few of us convinced him to demonstrate a portrait. It was obvious this required a bit more concentration; he was not quite as animated and more concentrated than usual. As a few of us attempted the portrait, Derric’s advice was: paint fast, paint what you see. The results were a more relaxed and loose approach. I would highly recommend his art course to anyone. Derric and his wife are wonderful hosts, making the 3 days of painting a very enjoyable experience.


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Luhanri Bekker


Luhanri Bekker

I was delighted to stumble upon the work of Luhanri Bekker in my last few days in South Africa; she is also exhibiting at the Holden Manz Collection art gallery in Franschhoek. Luhanri is relatively new on the scene and paints larger than life-size portraits. She draws her inspiration from people she has met during her travels in Africa. The authenticity of expression and the simple beauty of her work captivated me. This is what I aspire to.

And so the aspiring artist’s journey from Kigali to Cape Town and back has left me invigorated and ready to go. I am thankful for every artist I had contact with, and took something away from each encounter. Now I am back in Kigali and revived to get on with what I love – painting the people of Rwanda doing what they do.

(By clicking on the pictures you are able to find out more information about each artist or story.)

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Luhanri Bekker


I would love to hear your thoughts on these inspiring South African artists, please leave a comment…








  1. Jocelyn · · Reply

    I love the Luhanri Bekker paintings… REALLY love them. The eyes are catching! Thanks for sharing these!

    1. Yes Jocelyn her paintings are fantastic, even more impressive in the flesh. They are huge too.

  2. Annemarie · · Reply

    I would describe your style very similar to Luhanri Bekker. It was delightful to be at your show. Can’t wait for the next blog on that. I truly love the very fitting name, living in 3 countries. So true.

  3. Michael Williams · · Reply

    Nancy these paintings of yours are quite beautiful. Ettie and I think you are very clever, talented and blessed with an artists eye! Lovely to see your work. Please send us more. Are you guys coming down to Kleinmond this year? We are enjoying our second day here. It is quite sublime to, finally, be on holiday. Hope all you guys are well and that the family is thriving.

    1. Mike so very lovely to hear from you! We are in Kigali for Christmas this year. You still need to visit. We will miss seeing you all. If you would like to see more of my paintings (the ones I did for my first exhibition), I recently set up a facebook page where you can view some of my paintings:
      Lots of love to all your girls!

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