Santie Cronje uses her work to portray stories in a visual form, while the stories may be influenced by her own life the themes are universal: love, hope, travel, and adventure. Largely symbolic her works are characterised by the use of shades and tones that remind one of the ocean. Santie spoke to us about how her work has evolved, the importance of mentoring young artists and the difference between the New Zealand and South African art scene...
Storytelling is an important aspect of your work, with that narrative in mind, how much planning goes into each of your paintings? Do you allow the images to flow freely, or is your work influenced by your surroundings?
I usually plan a body of work with a story in mind. And the story is connected to happenings in my own life. Visual storytelling I find is a wonderful medium to get a message accross but also leaves a lot of room for your own interpretation. What we see and what we perceive is so closely related to what our experiences have been and where we are at in life.
But storytelling wasn't why I set out to paint... it was just something that I realised happened while I created: that the works actually related to aspects of my own life. And when I started digging deeper I could pin point it to a very specific set of events or emotions. And as in life... sometimes it is very clear where we're at and at times we're just kind of floating or drifting for a while. My work follows where I'm at.
To get back to the point... planning runs alongside the creative process. I might have a couple of initial images to start with. Sometimes they stay and sometimes they were just a kickstarter but never an image.
And yes, my surroundings and my life are the two biggest influencers.
If you had to tell somebody about your work and could only show them one piece of art what would you show them?
A painting I did in 2012 titled "All of Me". Visually it describes my journey to New Zealand and also my journey into adulthood. I talked to a ladies group a while back and it was so easy to use this piece as a visual diary of sorts.
Speaking of your journey to New Zealand, you trained and graduated from the University of Pretoria with a Bachelor of Arts before travelling extensively and settling in New Zealand. Have you noticed a different expectation of artists in New Zealand to what you received in South Africa or is art universal?
I think the biggest difference for me is in galleries from South Africa to being in New Zealand. Although I pretty much started my art career in New Zealand, I left South Africa shortly after I finished my studies to travel. I found the New Zealand art scene in general to be a more open and friendly environment for artists to enter.
I think it is easier to call yourself an artist in New Zealand even if you were self taught. Back in South Africa an education validates an occupation. I think most artists are self taught in the end. Some just had an educational start. But this would be harder to validate over there.
It could also just be my perception as the art world is pretty overwhelming for most young emerging art kids starting out.
You are heading back to South Africa at the end of the year. Will it be a working holiday or just time to catch up with friends and family?
I am definitely going to take a drawing book. We are going to stay mostly in the Cape area and visit some beautiful spots along the way as well as catching up with family and friends. It will be great to come back with some inspiration for a new body of work.
You mentioned the art world is overwhelming when you first start out. Is this one of the reasons you developed your mentoring programme?
Yes, I'm in the early stages of setting up a mentoring program for emerging and practising artists as well as students. One on one guidance can be a godsend when you're entering the big art world. Some artists might be stuck in a creative rut and in need of someone else rather than a friend or parent to give guidance and advice. It can be overwhelming and scary when you're trying to figure out the business side of things along with being creative.
In your travels you must have had the opportunity to visit some amazing galleries and exhibitions. Which stick out the most?
Museu Picasso in Barcelona and Musee D'Orsay in Paris are two of my favourites as it was like walking through my art history studies and seeing it in real life. Amazing.
You’ve worked in both private and open studios. How did the two atmospheres influence your work?
I've mostly worked from home but for a brief period of almost two years I had a small studio in town that was open to the public. I found the biggest difference was the structuring of my workdays when I had a studio compared to working from home. I have a natural creative flow that starts from about midday and then I focus well into the afternoon. So mornings I tend to do planning and admin. I also work in the evenings, if I know I have commitments the next day.
But when I had the studio I was open to business from 10-4 and with visitors popping in I had to learn to be comfortable with people in my space when I was in the zone... if you know what I mean. And that was a really good thing.
I am much more comfortable sharing the ugly stages of my paintings than ever before. I enjoyed the company of people and that I could explain what I was all about. Being back working from home I really appreciate the freedom I have to create when I wish to and leave the studio a bit more messy as I work frantically to get pieces done for shows!
There’s a certain level of vulnerability in sharing your art with others, particularly online. Do you worry about people judging you and how do you handle negative feedback/comments?
Being in a studio open to the public was the hardest thing I've done. It has certainly made the sharing of my work easier. I find sharing online the least confrontational.
Exhibitions can be brutal. And even though I have been exhibiting my work through galleries and art shows for almost ten years it still can affect the sensitive side in me which is the neccessary side to being creative. But I reason with myself and just say that not everyone will like my work. I try to focus on the people that do and mostly my family. If my partner and my kids enjoy what I do and if the galleries I work with are able to sell some of my work then I am not doing too badly.
But it is still hard somedays to put my work out there. Especially when I start with a new series. There is a little book on the market called "Art & Fear - Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking". The best thing I learnt from that book was to focus on creating, to put my energy into the artmaking, because the rest is what it is. If I worry too much about what people will think of my work it will drain my creative energies... and I need those to paint my stories.
So worrying about too much is a worry I cannot afford in the long run. Note to self: remember to remember those wise words when I worry about what people think!
Finally, what does art mean to you? It can mean so many different things to different people: to some it’s a passion, others a form of relaxation or even an addiction. What does art mean to you?
It is a conversation with myself and with others who are addicted to it. When you get involved with anything, like a sport or a hobby you become an enthusiast. I am both an enthusiast and an addict. I create daily, digest art on a daily basis, read about it, think about it and then talk about it to other fools like me. It's fun you must try it sometimes....oh I forget you do that too!
Santie Cronje's exhibition of petite graphite sketches runs until 2 October 2017.
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