Artists We Love: Marie-Louise Koen


Cape Town-born artist and Interior Designer Marie-Louise Koen chats to VISI about her latest exhibition, her inspirations and what the future holds for her bright and emotive artworks.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a Cape Town-born Artist and Interior Designer. I am Self-taught and have no formal artistic training, I kickstarted and self-launched my career as an Artist in 2017 where I exhibited my first collection of “faces” – my work has been well received internationally, across both New York City and South Africa. I have exhibited in several collaborative shows and had 5 solo exhibitions, exhibiting annually, with my most recent body of work “Been Dreaming of the Med” launching this June 2021. Outside of the art scene, I work as an Interior Designer and Marketing coordinator at a Tribeca based Architectural Studio in New York City and as a self-represented Artist and Interior Designer based out of Cape Town. For the past several years I have shared my time between both cities which I am lucky to call home.

What inspires your works?

I get my inspiration from my immediate surroundings be it people, places, social issues – my work is my response to them and/or my escape from them. My colour inspiration is often derived from my immediate environment and my bright bold art is often directly related to my interiors work, blurring the lines between both creative fields and using both fields as main forms of creative inspiration to each other.

What is the concept behind your new exhibition?

Been Dreaming of the Med is a series of seascapes along the coast of the Italian Amalfi, with a singular scene from Gozo, Malta, a part of my heritage, it has been created to be a feast for your eyes, a real visual and mental escape in this time of restricted travel.

Inspired by my travels across Italy, a stark change in inspiration from my usual subject matter in portraiture and female form, this new collection has been an explorative process for me – I just felt drawn to paint beautiful places, probably caused by my nostalgia for travel for being able to freely and safely immerse myself in a different culture, this work allowed me to mentally escape there. These are my first attempts at painting landscapes ( as I have always painted female form and portraiture), I needed a change in my creative space and this seemed like the obvious next subject matter to explore.

What is the process behind creating one of your works?

I usually work off of a photograph, an image which inspires me, whatever the subject matter and then I start to paint – my work is expressive and not exact to detail, I add in people, colours, movement and just go where it takes me – I like to play with different colour use and paint application, I think not having formal training has been a positive thing for my work process in that I am not restricted to “rules” or a “correct” way of painting – there is a definite level of expressionism in my work and its loose yet quite stylized. I never know where a piece is going, I just go with it and it usually all works out.

Do you stick to one particular medium?

I typically paint, however, my last collection “unmasked” in October 2020 was a print series where I graphically edited my original paintings and gave it more of a “pop art” feel – very Andy Warhol inspired. I am not restricted to one medium though – I always looking to explore

Where do you see your work headed in the future?

I hope to continue to exhibit at a minimum annually, to grow the brand and maybe venture into different markets with it – I’d love to dabble in textile printing, products etc. As far as the subject matter goes I can’t say, because its purely driven by the immediate space that I am in – its the most present representation of my life, the only thing I let emotions drive- I think I’ll stick to landscapes for a while though, maybe explore different coastlines, different scenes, maybe some South African scenes. For the moment I am working on a variety of commissions and customs which is a fun collaborative process, along with managing the prints and product side of my work. I think, as an artist, I hope to reach a larger international audience ultimately- I want my work to be accessible to everyone who has an appreciation for it, so doing prints of all the originals is a new development that I have delved into and seems to be well received, I have an affordable range and a limited edition range so something which caters to everyone.

Who are some local artists that you admire?

I am a big fan of Zanele Muholi’s work, her composition and striking imagery of portraiture, directly relating and highlighting social issues is genius. Equally a big fan of Candice Brietz, a few years ago I assisted on a few of her projects whilst she was in Cape Town, and her ability to create so rawly and unapologetically work speaking to very relevant and serious social issues is hugely inspiring.

How would you describe your style?

I am often playing around with different techniques, however, I think I have quite a distinctive Style evident throughout my body of work which lends to an expressionistic and quite stylized style. I use a lot of bold colours, and strong brushwork – all my paintings have a lot of movement, a lot of energy.

How can people get hold of your art?

I handle all the original artwork sales and custom/commission requests through my website. My prints you can directly purchase through the website as well as through my Instagram page.

To see my latest collection “Been Dreaming of the Med” it is on show as a pop-up installation at the Yard Cape town in the silo district until 30 June 2021 – 15% of all the sales for this collection will be donated to lalela a wonderful charity which provides educational arts for at-risk youth to spark creative thinking and awaken the entrepreneurial spirit.

My studio which is viewable by appointment is in Sea Point Cape Town.

Looking for more local artists? Read our Q&A with Claudia Gurwitz.