Artists We Love: Adele Van Heerden

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES courtesy of Bernard Brand

Cape Town-based artist Adele Van Heerden sheds some light on her latest Joburg exhibition Field Trip and how it represents spaces of natural respite in the bustling city.

Tell us about the concept of your new exhibition?

Field Trip is an exhibition of paintings, unique watercolour transfers and is an edition made in collaboration with David Krut Projects

Increasingly my work has become preoccupied with our connection (and dis-) from living through the Anthropocene. It has made me deeply aware of how vital nature is to be human. As urbanisation intensifies, so does the need for green spaces and finding ways to connect to the wilderness. Nature is at the heart of our psychological and physical well-being. But we are not always able to connect with it and my work has become increasingly preoccupied with how we bring the natural world into our own spaces and find ways to re-engage.

When I’m making work in a new city, I start by exploring, camera in hand, I’ll walk the physical spaces, discovering and documenting the environment, especially human-made spaces which work in symbiosis with greenery and plants. On returning to the studio, these images are translated into artworks.

The works on show recall my month-long residency with David Krut Projects in June/July of 2021, where I sought inspiration from the green lungs of the city. Johannesburg, which is considered the largest human-made forest in the world, is home to many a plant-filled nook and cranny. Those familiar with the city will recognise in these works locations in which residents find respite from the dense concrete urban landscape. My work highlights quiet scenes, often framed in such a way to feel like one is looking sideways or glancing up, in places like Maboneng, The Wilds, Victoria Yards, The Greenhouse Project at Joubert Park, and the Melville Koppies.

Adele Van Heerden

What does a regular day look like for you?

I like to wake up early and start my day with a dog walk, sometimes just around the neighbourhood of Observatory, but if I have more time I like to go to Newlands Forest or one of the many trails on Table Mountain. Some mornings I opt for a swim, which is becoming my new obsession.

Then I roll into the studio and start my day with a coffee and catch up with my studio mates. I try to keep regular 9-5 hours at the studio. 

You use a variety of different mediums, do you work on multiple pieces at the same time and do you go through phases? 

I definitely go through phases. Sometimes I’m interested in painting something I saw and was inspired by recently on a walk, and other times I like painting interior scenes. I find there are definitely strong themes recurring in my work, such as greenhouses, houseplants, dogs on carpets, windows and reflections, bouquets and monuments. 

Images are translated onto film through drawing and painting on both the front and the back of the translucent substrate. I’ll usually start with the linework using a fine liner, a Japanese brush pen or charcoal. Then I’ll turn the translucent paper around and start adding colour with gouache paint in the reverse-painting technique. Sometimes, if I have a lot of energy I’ll have multiple pieces on the go, especially if I’m working on a series or a new body of work. Other times I’ll prefer to focus on one piece at a time. 

Where do you go for inspiration?

I try to find inspiration in everyday life and my work is mostly autobiographical. The pandemic taught me that beauty can be found in the everyday and banal, you just need to shift your perspective. I have many folders on my computer with pictures from the last few years, and I’ll often look back at them to a particular moment or place. I will then “relive” this moment by painting it, often a few months or years later.

What feeling do you try to evoke through your work?

My intention is to evoke a sense of calm in my works. During a time that is quite stressful and volatile, I think it’s important to surround yourself with artworks that bring you a sense of peace. 

What plans do you have for the next year?

I’m preparing for another solo exhibition later in the year, and I’m planning to return to David Krut Projects soon for another printmaking project. There are some collaborative projects with some local brands coming up as well.

Describe your work in three words?

  • Calm
  • Detailed 
  • Meditative

Tell us about your lockdown art experience?

Being home and confined to the indoors prompted a re-engagement with interior scenes. It was a good time to simplify my life, figure out what is really important, and reconnect with what it meant to be “at home”. I had just returned in time from my residency in Paris, so I had all this inspiration and energy to produce a new body of work in my kitchen. 

During the first few weeks of lockdown, I put out a call on social media for images from the lives of friends and during their sheltering at home. I then painted these pictures and compiled them in an online art portfolio and exhibition titled Hold Fast. This was an interesting online dialogue and exchange during a time when communication was shifting. I think people enjoyed seeing their experience depicted through painting, and buying a work from this series had an additional incentive as 50% of the sales went to Food Flow ZA (a local food security organization).

Follow Adele on Instagram, here.

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