Artists We Love: Ruby Swinney


Local artist Ruby Swinney talks to VISI about her latest show at Zeitz MOCAA and what inspires her emotive artworks.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I live in Cape Town and work full time as a practicing artist. I work out of a studio in Paarden Eiland. I graduated from Michaelis School of Fine Art in 2015. I was fortunate that Zeitz MOCAA bought my graduate show Half Light, and has been collecting my work ever since. My first museum solo show, Human Nature, will be coming to an end on 31 October 2018.

How did you come up with the concept for Human Nature?

Julia Kabat, who works at Zeitz MOCAA, curated the show. It reflects her conceptual, as well as her curatorial, ideas. The overall concept stems from the main themes she saw in my work. Human Nature is a broad term that encompasses many ideas that I explore in my practice.

What inspires your work?

I find inspiration in almost everything that I see in my direct environment. I also find inspiration in literature, music, art history and seeing what other artists are doing. I recently did a residency in Sicily and took the opportunity to travel to many museums and galleries throughout Portugal, Italy, France and Spain. I have a fascination with observing people interacting with public spaces, so I went with a particular focus on visiting botanical gardens and parks. I’ve built up a substantial collection of source material from that trip, much of which has informed my recent work, most noticeably in Red Garden, which is in the last room of Human Nature at Zeitz MOCAA.

What mediums do you use?

I mainly work with oil paint on translucent media, such as tracing paper, silk, perspex, as well as with projections. I’m interested in the qualities of light and luminosity primarily. I also make prints and installation works. I studied music as well as art, which is another avenue I plan to explore in my work in the future.

Prosaic Ritual of Youth

What process do you follow when creating your artworks?

I am usually drawn to a specific image, or I will photograph something that particularly interests me. I sometimes use Photoshop or manipulate the image while I am painting. I paint in a reductive way – I often remove paint to allow light to shine through instead of using white paint or opaque pigments.

Are there any local illustrators / artists on your radar at the moment?

South Africa has so many brilliant artists, but I particularly look to local women artists like Marlene Dumas, Jane Alexander, Penny Siopis, Sanell Aggenbach, Lisa Brice, Zanele Muholi and Nandipha Mntambo. Painters like Kate Gottgens and Georgina Gratrix are constantly making inspiring work. Wim Botha is also a huge inspiration, and his current show at the Norval Foundation is outstanding. Many of my peers who studied with me are making exciting new work. Michaela Younge, who shows with SMITH Studio makes incredible pieces from felt; Simphiwe Ndzube, who’s currently living in Los Angeles, combines installation, sculpture and painting in a unique, new way. I don’t know a lot about the illustration side of things but I love Tyla Mason’s illustrations.

What feeling are you trying to evoke through your pieces?

I’m trying to evoke a space of introspection. It takes time to take in the details and the full painting. Like an altarpiece in a cathedral, I want people to be able to enter into another psychological and emotional space in front of my work.

Mystery of Faith

Any exciting plans for the future?

I have a couple of shows planned. I will be exhibiting at a group show in Amsterdam, and am working towards my next solo with my gallery WHATIFTHEWORLD next year.

See more of Ruby’s work at