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Art Focus: Meet Artist & Creative Claudia Gurwitz

This women’s month we draw inspiration from our very own local creatives and innovators – the women pushing the boundaries of art and design in South Africa. One such creative powerhouse is Claudia Gurwitz – an artist who is constantly exploring our indigenous plant life through paint.

We spoke to Claudia about her latest work, influences and how she navigates the world of art as a modern South African woman.

Tell us more about your background as an artist.

In 1996, after completing two years towards a BAFA at Michaelis, UCT, I left the University to do Yoga teacher’s training and I completed national certifications in various holistic therapeutic disciplines. Since 1997 I have run my own established yoga centres in Cape Town and Riebeek Kasteel. In 2005 I returned to painting and a three-year mentorship under Julia Teale at Spencer Street Studio. Two years later, in 2007 I embraced working as a professional artist, adopting Riebeek Kasteel as my hometown. And in 2019 I returned to Cape Town where I now live and create.

What is the message behind your work?

My most recent body of work was born during S.A.’s Lockdown and explores interrupted plant imagery. This work stems from the feeling of collective disharmony that disturbs our existence during this Covid pandemic. My ‘interrupted landscapes’ are composed through a process of deconstructing, cropping and isolating my subject matter. I further reassemble and realign this imagery in fragments.

While we feel a disconnect, our environment, in turn, feels out of sync. These paintings allude to a subtly distorted perspective of natural form, reflective of a disturbed environment. While these paintings express our disconnected reality, I also find a surprising beauty in their distortion. Perhaps this alternate beauty reflects nature’s resilience and ability to heal.

There is hope and inspiration as we reshape our new normal.

Who are your biggest influences?

My inspiration comes from the natural world itself. The colour, contrasts, harmony, rhythm and tension.

Attention to detail is vital to me. I have always observed the detail of structure and shapes in nature; the parts that make the whole. Through a micro-setting, I capture a magnified perspective of seemingly unremarkable plant matter. It is in this detail that my painting exposes the sacred geometry of each form.

I am drawn towards the predominantly indigenous South African plant forms, and the strength and potency that they hold. Each artwork taps into the coexistence and interdependence of nature’s male and female forces. My contemporary interpretations of botanical painting celebrate nature’s male and female counterparts that both oppose and harmonise with one another.

Abundance; 2013; Oil on Canvas; 100cm x 132.5cm

How do you continue to develop in your career?

I regularly participate in group shows and art charity events. In 2016-2019 I participated alongside the other local Riebeek artists in the annual collaborative art event, Solo Studios.

I have also had 3 solo exhibits:

  • In 2008 Julia Teale curated and hosted my first solo exhibition, ‘PLANT’, at Spencer Street Studio.
  • My show, ‘Rooted’, was held at the Irma Stern Museum in 2012.
  • I recently exhibited at the Association for Visual Arts (The AVA Gallery), with my latest, ‘Interrupted’, series in June/July.

Furthermore, my work features in collections such as:

  • Old Mutual, Spier Estate, University of Cape Town, Countess Antonia Labia Hardres-Williams, Hout Bay Manor, The Bay Hotel, Qasar al Sarab Hotel in Abu Dhabi and Nando’s UK.

How do you personally navigate the art world?

With difficulty. It’s challenging trying to get one’s work into the gallery hierarchy. I find one has to be thick-skinned to delve into the art world and present one’s work. It can be a rollercoaster having to motivate oneself and work.

Which current art world trends are you following?

Nothing in particular… I enjoy searching social media and absorbing a variety of styles/concepts etc.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

I love that every piece has always found it’s right home. It gives me a warm feeling hearing back from happy clients whose homes have been uplifted by my art.

I also love how decorators display my work in such unexpected décor contexts. It’s so inspiring.

At my June/July exhibition at The AVA Gallery, it was a privilege to connect face to face with art lovers, students and collectors. Seeing others respond to my work in their own unique ways always gives me new perspective on my work.

The First Thursday crowd, mostly younger 20-somethings, was particularly surprising. They were so open and engaging. It was refreshing.

What is your dream project?

I would love to engage with and collaborate with other artists, on a national and international platform. While I enjoy the solitude, painting can also become too insular.

Participating on a large project, or in an art fair, where I am exposed to artists from other cultures and ideas would be exciting.

‘Wall Flower’ no.3; 2021; Oil on Canvas; 380mm x 500mm

Discover more about this amazing female artist online at Claudia’s Wall.

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