GETIT Magazine | april 2015
Her fearless use of colour is “merely a by-product,” she declares, describing her work as intensely busy, yet well composed in order to find a visual equilibrium. “My strength as artist comes from diving into a piece without too much dwelling beforehand. It turns out as it should or becomes a precursor for the final work. Sometimes you tap blood from the canvas or sculpture, with other a mere stroke of the brush and it’s done!”
As a student she veered towards the practical craftsmen, the frame makers and assistants, rather than the academics – “they had such skill, unencumbered by ego and subjectiveness,” she recalls. “Jane Alexander was the one lecturer who taught me a certain way of looking at my art.”
Living in two worlds, Cape Town and Belgium, with musician husband Stef Bos, the artist’s ideal creative space is not so much a place as a state of mind, “losing myself, busy with my power tools and paints, for hours.” Motherhood adjusted, the artist feels “renewed and in a new phase of my life.”
With her children Kolya en Lorelei as her most immediate frame of reference and models for her large figurative oil paintings, she’s known for her laslappie canvasses. “Each block of fabric presents a unique challenge in terms of texture, how the paint interacts with its new surface and the pattern forms part of the overall composition.
She’s drawn to figurative work, ordinary people’s unique quirks and interactions, but depictions go beyond mere aesthetics. “A good artwork hanging on a wall, should punch you, in one way or the other,” she believes.
“I’m intensely fascinated by the complexities of modern life and the challenges a modern human is faced with,” elaborates the artist who in 2002 tutored Nelson Mandela in art, assisting him in producing the Robben Island series. “It’s frustrating that South African consciousness is embedded in our own small wars, our art in politics while there are global issues that affects us directly and eradicates artificial distinctions between us.”
She reads widely about ‘interconnectedness’, including quantum physicist and author Vandana Shiva’s writings on environmental activism and anti-globalisation. The Secret Life of Plants (written by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird) had a huge impact on her.
“There is enough ugliness in the world,” she muses, “so I naturally veer towards finding beauty – transcending the horror of necklacing, for instance, into a wood-crafted tyre, its white ceramic flame a symbol. The initial visual image never transpires exactly in real life; it remains elusive. But some form of art appears in its place. It’s also the fate of every artist who paints from the gut, that each piece reveals a bit of yourself within the story it tells.”
Working with new material and textures holds the promise of a fresh approach. “Lately I find myself leaning toward sculptures. I want to do huge ones, and public art. Artwork does not belong in museums all the time. It should be seen, touched and appreciated.”
Weekends were never a concept until Kolya went to school. “Irrespective of what the future holds, as long as there is love,” Varenka believes, “the children will adapt to our lifestyle.” There are so many options. “It was Stef, the quintessential wanderer, who was the instigator of a home in South Africa,” she jokes.
“In Belgium, on the border of The Netherlands we live in a small village, in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rural landscape. Stef often does four shows a week, so it’s a more secluded life than in Cape Town where life is busier.
“When he’s away I love listening to his music in my studio (it’s problematic when he’s home as he never wants to listen to his own music!). But I have a diverse repertoire playing in my blue tin shed, from rock, acoustic to classic to Philipp Poisel.”
She loves to read (“If I can find the time …”), starting to enjoy cooking. It seems that two fish eaters have been blessed with two hearty young carnivores, “who luckily share our love for sushi”.
The West Coast holds a special place and she often hikes up Lion’s Head. “I’ve always been active, dancing most of my life has been replaced by surfing and yoga … although it’s been a while,” she concludes. In so many ways, the artist nominated as finalist in both the Absa Young Artist of the Year Award and Sasol New Signatures a few years back feels “as if I’m ready to jump off the high end again”.