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10 Questions with Adelle van Zyl Article Image

10 Questions with Adelle van Zyl

Posted on 24 November 2022

Adelle van Zyl's paintings explore the contrast between reflected, filtered, and artificial lighting on architectural interiors, transforming pressed glass windows into something strange and new.

"Through my paintings of architectural interior details I wish to share with the viewer moments when I found exceptional beauty within ordinary surroundings, and I consider the transformative properties of light," says Van Zyl.

She is one of our selected 10 Art.co.za Watch List artists to follow in 2023. The new annual list of the most on-the-rise artists in South Africa features the artists across various media and subject matter who have gained momentum in the past year and who are reaching new heights in their art careers.

If not art, what would you do?

Twenty years ago my answer would have been "architect", as suggested by a career counsellor. I had the university application form already filled in when the tiny voice asked "but what about art?" so I tore up the form and applied for a visual arts degree. Today my answer is "professional cupboard organiser". It's what I constantly do anyway, might as well get paid for it.

Where does your inspiration come from?

This is a deceptively simple question that had me thinking for a few days. Inspiration for my art varies according to my latest fixation. At the moment it's filtered light shining through pressed glass windows, found in unexpected places. Wherever I go I am constantly noticing windows and taking cellphone photos of them. But true inspiration, the kind that keeps me committed to making art when I'd much rather be doing something else, comes from people. People who are self-made, who make progress in life through hard work, and who manage to stay humble and maintain a sense of humour about the world and themselves, are what pushes me to keep going at it.

Adelle van Zyl, A Glass Darkly IV (2022), Oil on canvas
Adelle van Zyl, A Glass Darkly IV (2022), Oil on canvas

What's your secret obsession?

TV shows about hoarders.

Do you have a creative muse?

I have but he/she/it is stubborn, shy and lazy, and usually only shows up after I spent three consecutive days in my studio. A friend of mine once remarked that "muses are fickle things and cannot be depended on." So I try to not rely on a muse to coax me into making art, but rather self-discipline, although evidence points to that also being a mythical thing.

Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven't yet?


Favorite time of the day?

Early morning when the dawn chorus starts and I have my first coffee, and around 5 or 6 in the afternoon when the highveld thunderstorm dissipates and the light becomes syrupy and gold.

Adelle van Zyl, A Glass Darkly II (2022), Oil on canvas
Adelle van Zyl, A Glass Darkly II (2022), Oil on canvas

What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can't live without in your studio?

Good light. All other tools are interchangeable, but without the right light you can't do anything.

Favourite or most inspirational place in South Africa?

The banks of the Limpopo river, "all set about with Fever Trees". As a child I had a very specific idea of what Heaven looked like, and was amazed to later find that such a place exists on earth.

What, in your opinion, is the hardest step in creating an artwork?

The first one: mustering up enough courage to approach the canvas or paper, to open up to the process, and to have the guts to enter into a reciprocating relationship between myself and the medium I'm working with.

What's the best creative advice you've ever received?

This passage from the chapter Finding your work in Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland (A book every artist should read at least three times):

"The world displays perfect neutrality on whether we achieve any outward manifestation of our inner desires. But not art. Art is exquisitely responsive. Nowhere is feedback so absolute as in the making of art. The work we make, even if unnoticed and undesired by the world, vibrates in perfect harmony to everything we put into it - or withhold from it. In the outside world there may be no reaction to what we do; in our artwork there is nothing but reaction. The breathtakingly wonderful thing about this reaction is its truthfulness. Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes."

View Adelle van Zyl's portfolio and follow her on Instagram.

Adelle van Zyl, Staring at Windows I (2022), Oil on canvas
Adelle van Zyl, Staring at Windows I (2022), Oil on canvas

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