Creating boundary-pushing art


Rising from the lockdown ashes, celebrated artist Hannetjie de Clercq is painting up a storm with verve and vigour for her forthcoming exhibition.

Humankind terrorised by a virus has spurred Hannetjie de Clercq to action: portraying the power, terror and strange beauty of a chaotic world we thought we’d never see. Using her trademark style of juxtapositioning emotions, abstract space, human figures and our new social realities, the work promises to enthrall.

“During lockdown, everyone seemed to get terribly creative. But creatives only got depressed! So I just sat around. Must say, sometimes it’s good to just sit – your perspectives change dramatically. But now it’s time for remedial action,” she said.

At her Riebeek-Kasteel studio, which is atmospherically part seminary and part glasshouse, she explained her latest work. “Harking back to my original style, the subject matter is my inner landscape, in contrast or in balance with our world. The pandemic startled most of us, but in real time it’s a blip. The thought of how small this moment is in the context of our planet’s timeline manifests clearly in the work. Using watercolours on canvas, I’ll depict the balance between abstract space and the human figure.”

Thrilled about the exhibition – to be held jointly with her son, ceramicist Van Wessels – Hannetjie could barely contain her excitement about cooking for guests again. “I simply have to feed people. Cooking is an extension of my creative thinking and I’m particularly fond of spiced, Middle Eastern food.”

Having sampled her out-of-this-world exhibition buffet in years gone by, it truly is an experience in itself. An array of foods took you on a global culinary tour. The only gamble was whether to go back for that third plate and risk being wheeled out of the garden after slipping into a food coma.

“It may be sound trite, but the feeling you put into cooking makes all the difference,” she said. Of course in this drastically altered world, she’ll forego the visually dazzling, gourmet buffet for pre-packaged parcels of scrumptious eats.

Getting back to the narratives in her work, Hannetjie explained, “Way back at age 18, I started as a naïve artist, using watercolours on paper for my first exhibition in Pretoria. Then I experimented with linen and silk embroidery. Finally, in the 90s I developed a technique using a water medium in layers on canvas.”

Working with precision, her tried-and-tested formula deepens stroke by stroke on her preferred mediums of tempera, watercolour and oil on canvas. The poetry glows in her latest pre-Covid work, strongly influenced by the bright imagery and spirals of Zanzibar, her time-out spot.

Acknowledged as South African art royalty, Hannetjie’s work forms part of the impressive Sasol Art Collection, together with works by, among others, Walter Battis, Gregoire Boonzaier, Frans Claerhout and Louis Jansen van Vuuren.

After spells in Clarens, Grahamstown, Paarl’s Dal Josefat Art Foundation and Simons Town, Hannetjie settled in Riebeek-Kasteel in 1996 – long before the town became a tourist hotspot. Today, she and partner Lood Erasmus live in a charming cottage which they restored brick by brick, together with two cats, plus Bouvier des Flanders canines, Fumba and Hapsha. And this is her happy place – in the shade-filled garden surrounded by art, she comes into her own.

For escapism I watch movies
My pet place on the West Coast is Riebeek-Kasteel
A much-loved eating experience is Isabella’s Langtafel in Langebaan
I enjoy eating octopus and fish
My signature drink is an old-fashioned, heavy red wine
Favourite reads are magic realism
On TV I like watching British dramas

Because of the number restrictions, bookings for Hannetjie & Van’s exhibition on 22 November at Cnr Maree & Walter St, Riebeek-Kasteel are essential: or WhatsApp 082 5731489.