Artists We Love: Anya Giselle Woolley

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES Courtesy of Anya Giselle Woolley

Cape Town-based artist and lecturer Anya Giselle Woolley creates ethereal oil paintings and watercolours that convey a dream-like quality. We chat with her about her calm and serene artworks.

When did you find yourself interested in art?

I’ve always had a real love for art. When I started kindergarten around 3 years old I remember drawing and painting for hours and hours. I had a wonderful teacher who encouraged me to spend my time exploring this early passion of mine. Then, throughout childhood, some of my fondest memories are of sketching landscapes and old cottages with my sister on family camping trips to places like the Cederberg and Nature’s Valley. Throughout my academic years at school and university, art was always a wonderful escape, helping me to cope with personal stress. 

Anya Giselle Woolley

How would you describe the work you create?

I am fascinated by quiet, peaceful spaces, golden light and ethereal colours. My current series of oil paintings are inspired by forests in Cape Town and the tropical scenery which I encountered whilst living in Vietnam for 6 years. Through my paintings, I wish to evoke the calm and serenity one feels when immersed in these spaces and transport the viewer into an enchanted and almost dreamlike natural world or scene. My watercolour paintings also have similar qualities but they were inspired by my experiences of the scenery and the people I encountered in Vietnam. 

What mediums do you use and are there any challenges?

I mainly work in watercolour and oil. Both have endless creative possibilities. I really enjoy exploring the depth of colour and the light that you can achieve with both media. A big challenge for me with oils, when I was living in Vietnam, was the humidity and the possibility of mould forming on my oil paintings. I’m really happy that this is not a problem in Cape Town. Another challenge is knowing when the painting is truly finished when it has that special feeling or atmosphere. Most of the time this is unconscious and unplanned, so you just have to trust in the process and know that it will emerge through the various layers and colours.

What does a regular day look like for you?

I wake up early as the quiet mornings and the morning light inspires me. I feed my cats, make a coffee and head to the studio to paint for the morning. The late afternoon light can be quite strong in my studio so I tend to do my admin then, followed by a yoga class or a walk on the beach or the local Noordhoek Common. 

Where do you look for inspiration? What moves you to create?

I tend to find inspiration in nature and places that make me feel happy, calm and sometimes nostalgic. A place, a scene or a moment needs to elicit a feeling in me so that I can put my feelings into what I create. I also find inspiration in observing scenes in the early morning or evening when the light is soft and almost golden. 

Your art has a very other-worldly and ethereal quality. Has it always been like this?

I’ve always been a dreamer and attracted to otherworldly, ethereal things and the mystery found in nature. As a child, I spent a lot of time playing outside, walking in nature and observing the small details and beauty in my surroundings. Art has always been a way to express these feelings, so perhaps that’s why my paintings have this quality. 

What is your dream landscape?

My dream landscape is one that takes me to an elevated state, a peaceful, quiet place that is full of light and nature that is thriving. It is part real, part imagined. It is one that is somewhat immersive, which would draw the viewer in to imagine the sights and sounds of nature and experience the serenity and calm of the scene. 

Visit to see more of her work.

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