Plants on canvas
Stellenbosch artist Paula van Coller creates paintings you want to gaze at for a long time. Everything flows and works together, almost like an ecosystem. Thanks to her perceptiveness and eye for detail you can almost smell the blossoms, feel the breeze a
You’ve been painting for 20 years and your exhibitions always centre around plants, flowers and bulbs. Your most recent exhibition, “Fleurs de La Motte”, focuses on indigenous plants and fynbos found on this estate. Where did your fascination with plants start?
I grew up in Bloemfontein. My mother, Retha, was always working in the garden and helped people with garden design. She also did arrangements for weddings and, whenever we could, we’d help her to earn pocket money. Plants and flowers were part of our upbringing.
My love of painting them began when I studied at the University of the Free State, and since then I’ve always focused on plants and sustainability.
Do you study real plants to take note of their details?
I do like to keep branches in my studio and to paint directly from them. The organic lines are inspiring, and this also helps me capture the natural shadows of the plant. I place flowers in a vase but unfortunately they wilt – then I use photos to complete the final, finer, details.
How do you think your work has changed over the past 20 years?
My work grows as I grow as a person. I always challenge myself to try something new. When I was invited by La Motte, I grabbed the chance to discover new plants. I was enchanted by the process of capturing blushing brides, ericas, proteas and pincushions on canvas.
You love painting large canvases…
Small and large paintings take me the same amount of time. I get carried away by detail and can work for hours – it’s almost addictive. The detail has more space to breathe on a bigger canvas and when I work on a larger scale, my work flows more easily.
What has your intensive study of plants and flowers taught you?
Amazement Each plant or piece of plant material is unique.
Patience Starting to work on a painting is the same as buying a small tree in a four-litre bag, transplanting it, caring for it and hoping it grows into a beautiful big tree.
Determination I’ve learnt to continue painting, even when I struggle, to make sure that what excites me about the plant is captured accurately.
You live with your husband and twin sons, Ben and Walt, in Stellenbosch. Are you a gardener?
Gardening is my home. The beauty, the growth, the care… but also the struggle, which is happening now with the drought. I realised that I must plant more cleverly. Only 15 of my 40 rose bushes have survived with the help of grey water. And now I know that the shade of a tree is more important than a green lawn. In future I will choose more hardy, indigenous waterwise plants.
Prins Matika has worked for us for 17 years and I have the greatest respect for his wonderful skill with plants.
What do you find special about your garden in winter?
The interesting lines and shadows of a tree without leaves. The fynbos covered in the most beautiful flowers.
Visit Paula’s exhibition at La Motte wine estate outside Franschhoek. She walks groups through the exhibition and explains more about each painting. The last tour with Paula takes place on 5 June – bookings are essential. la-motte.com
Paula’s art works are inspired by the delicate, cheerful Erica baueri and Erica parviflora (left, from above), among others, at La Motte.