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Beauty redefined

A piece of art is often about more than just the paint on the canvas. Sometimes it is part of a healing process and an emotional journey for its creator. In Ballito artist Michelle Goulden’s case, it is exactly this for both her and, very often, the subject she is painting.

When Michelle creates a piece of artwork, it’s about more than just making a pretty picture. In fact, she takes great care in ensuring the beautiful nude figures she recreates in acrylic are as close to the exact images supplied by her models as possible. Her goal is to stay true to the person she is representing. And they are always amazed at how beautiful they look.

“I love giving women the opportunity to see themselves differently and hearing them say, ‘oh wow, I really can look pretty.”

Originally from Pietermaritzburg, Michelle spent 12 years living in Saudi Arabia where, she says, creating artwork like this would have been completely taboo. Perhaps that is exactly why, when she returned to South Africa last year, the mother of two changed her painting style from ‘picture perfect’ botanicals and landscapes to something a little more risqué, fun and liberating.

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Michelle studied fashion design after school and went straight into the fashion industry, even creating designs for SA fashion week. She always painted though.
“I was teaching and painting in Saudi, but when I came home last year I decided to try something different. I had always wanted to try painting figures and I find acrylic very therapeutic.”

Michelle says after posting one or two of her pieces online she suddenly had huge interest from friends and family members – both in South Africa and overseas – who wanted her to do commissions of them.

“My models have to send me photographs of themselves (I encourage them to get their husband or partner to take the photos) and then I change it to black and white and crop it and work from there. For many women just having the photograph taken and sending it to me is a huge deal,” she says.

“It’s about more than just the end result. It’s a process, which often takes a lot of bravery. But the result is always so worth it and it can be hugely cathartic and liberating. And at the end of the process, the clients has a really beautiful image they can proudly hang on their wall.”

Michelle says the process has been extremely therapeutic for her as well. “A little bit of myself and my own emotions definitely goes into every piece I create. I love working with acrylic in that every time I pick up the brush I can add to and change the painting in some way until one day I stand back and say, ‘okay, I’m done.’”

Details: IG: michelle_heather_art

Text: Leah Shone Photograph: Mary-Ann Palmer

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