The Artistic Road with Roelof Rossouw
From finding his passion for art in the pages of comic books as a child, to exhibiting across the world including London, Cheltenham, Glasgow, Galway, Armagh, San Francisco, and Miami – and including Clint Eastwood on his list of fans – South African artist Roelof Rossouw has garnered massive success.
Focusing on landscapes as subject matter, Rossouw paints freely with colour to express emotion, without abstracting the iconic mountains and Cape Dutch architecture of the country. The result: calming works of art that transport viewers to a place of serenity.
PREMIER interviewed Rossouw about his (not always paved) road to success, how he creates art, and his inspirations.
PREMIER: Why did you decide become an artist?
Rossouw (R.R): My parents took me to every air show, and by the age of four I knew all the aircrafts and made drawings of them. Aircraft and flight was my first passion, then came comic heroes like Tarzan, Cisco Kid, Flash Gordon, and later Tintin. Inspired by the excellent quality comics and comic artists of the 1960s, I made my own comics instead of studying my school lessons. As a child I admired the art collection of my aunt. I would stand for a long time in front of those paintings, and one day I said, “I am going to be an artist.” She replied that artists struggle and that I should rather become an architect or art teacher.
PREMIER: Would you say that your upbringing has influenced your art? If so, why?
R.R: My mother and grandmother read a lot of stories to me, and I loved looking at the illustrations in books. That must have to been a positive influence. I was attracted to the colour and even the smell of the printer ink on the pages of the comics and books. My father would read the comic strips in newspapers and I soon followed his example. I still collect re-prints of those heroes to this day.
PREMIER: What is your favourite aspect of your career, and your least favourite?
R.R: My favourite is when a painting is sold and the great feeling it gives me. Also, when a client is very satisfied with a work. My least favourite is when I deliver paintings to the city centre and have to find a parking near the gallery.
PREMIER: What are some of the obstacles you have had to overcome on your artistic path?
R.R: Gaining recognition and respect was not an easy path. There were galleries that rejected my work in the early days.
PREMIER: To what or who would you attribute your success?
R.R: Estelle Rossouw had a gallery in Pretoria East and employed me as an assistant in 1992. She believed in my talent and gave me the opportunity to paint every day, and that is the secret to my success. That is the only way to improve – to continue to paint. She helped me get into the art market and introduced me to famous artists and art lovers. After a few months, I took my paintings to a very successful gallery in Norwood, Johannesburg, and my work impressed Chris Crake. He ordered three large paintings and soon they started selling. Top collectors, banks, and high ranking businesspeople were buying my works. I love what I do and people can see and feel my passion through looking at my work. I enjoy working directly with clients and try and go the extra mile by working with integrity, providing quality service, and paying attention to their specific needs.
PREMIER: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
R.R: Early in 2009 a film agency walked into the Cape Gallery in Cape Town and hired three of my landscape paintings to feature as props in the movie Invictus by Clint Eastwood, about the 1995 Rugby World Cup. When Eastwood arrived on the set and saw the paintings he was so impressed that he gave the instruction to his agents to buy two of the paintings for his personal collection.
PREMIER: How would you describe your artistic style?
R.R: I have always loved the impressionists, and in the early 1980s I discovered modern impressionistic painters such as Ken Howard and Bernard Dunstan of England, and Max Agostini of France. I began studying their wonderful work which appeared in art magazines. I dreamed of the day that I could paint as loosely as they did. I would say my style is “Realistic Impressionistic”. My colours are natural, my work neat and descriptive. I want people to see that it is paint. The last thing I want is to paint like a photograph – that is a job for the camera.
PREMIER: What inspires you?
R.R: I find potential inspiration and material in everyday situations. The subject matter does not have to be grand or idyllic – it is actually quite the opposite. I cannot help but to observe the abstract shapes and exciting contrasts created by the sunlit and shadow areas of buildings – an old factory, a harbour, a crowded street, and farmlands. These are the kind of visual statements that inspire me
to capture them on canvas. The central theme of my paintings has something to do with mood, light, and colour. I try and create a particular atmosphere and sense of time. By reducing unnecessary detail I focus the attention on the shapes and juxtaposition of colour.
PREMIER: Please go through your process, from deciding on a subject to the end product.
R.R: The first step is to look for inspiration and reference. I always work from something, mainly photos. I’ll search my files on my pc or go out and search for scenes to shoot. Then I use the computer to create a better composition. I often use several photos to create one perfect scene. Once I am happy, I will then transfer the image onto my canvas using charcoal to roughly sketch the outlines. Then I will block in the large shapes either with thin oil paint or acrylic paint. Once this underpainting is dry I will start from the top to the bottom painting in full colour. I work wet into wet to give the soft edge and blended quality.
PREMIER: How do you feel your work has changed over the years?
R.R: I have developed an eye for good composition. Better colour harmony and making use of soft edges. I am also focussing less on detail and paint with more confidence.
PREMIER: If you were not an artist, what would you be?
R.R: I always loved the arts, anything creative. I did drama and music at school. I enjoyed acting and wanted to become a movie star at one point. I also love playing piano and singing and also wanted to become a rock star like Elton John.
PREMIER: You have travelled extensively – what is your favourite place, and why?
R.R: Venice is my favourite place. Wherever you stand and look you can find a scene to paint – the possibilities are endless.
PREMIER: What are your plans for the future?
R.R: I want to be the best South African artist ever of course. I want to continue building my name and improving. Perhaps delve into more abstract painting. I will always paint in my traditional way because I have a very good market and know that I will always have work.
For more info and to view Rossouw’s work, visit www.capegallery.co.za and follow Roelof Rosouw Art on Facebook.
The Koo Valley
Unloading Boxes of Snoek, Hout Bay
The Stained Glass Window
Sunset on Camps Bay