Local artists Xenia de Lange and Casandra Jacobs understand there is a fine line between indulging an artistic streak and trusting creative intuition. We catch up with them to chat about art in the area, and find out more about their current project, Lowveld Figure Drawing.

Tell us a little about your art journey?

Xenia: In high school I hated everything, but loved art. I grew up in a space that nurtured creativity as a norm, as my grandmother was a sculpture major, so it was easy for me to feel comfortable with exploring that aspect of my life.

Casandra: I’ve always been quite creative. I was a sensitive child and felt things deeply, and by gravitating to the emotiveness of the arts, I’ve grown my sense of wonder. Growing up in a business-orientated family gives me a strong business sense, and I knew that by studying a creative subject rather than pursuing a stereotypical degree, I would broaden my options considerably.

Xenia de Lange and Casandra Jacobs

Do you think the Lowveld is a good place to start a career as an artist?
Xenia: Nope.

Casandra: I feel that being in the Lowveld as an artist is neither here nor there. It’s not a background that can guarantee or hinder your success. The creative industry has grown a lot in the Lowveld, but again, none of that is an assurance to anything. Neither is heading to the bigger cities. As an artist, you are essentially working for yourself. Nothing is stable, nothing is assured, and for many artists it will take years to possibly even get the opportunity to get into shows or a gallery. So to give a short answer to this, it’s not always about the location, but about the person!

Do you think art is a good field to go into? What advice would you give someone who wanted to pursue a career in art?
Xenia: Get out of the Lowveld. It’s not always about selling work. The school programmes for art are not great, there is always more emphasis placed on sport and academics and not much on the more creative subjects. There also isn’t enough happening in the area with regard to the larger scope art fairs. I feel that living in the Lowveld, you are chronically starved as an artist, unless you’re into landscapes.

Casandra: Recent events make it potentially inadvisable to pursue what is essentially a passion job as a means to make a living right now. By all means, pursue a career in the arts, but don’t leave your day job, especially not in the beginning. Do your research, get yourself out there and start getting your work recognised, building up your online presence and joining local art groups or clubs.

I think what a lot of people don’t understand when it comes to the arts, is that you have to produce regardless of how inspired or good you’re feeling that day. Xenia made a good point about not thriving in this area unless you are a landscape painter. You won’t always be allowed the luxury of creating what you like, but you will need to produce work specifically for your audience. In the Lowveld, we attract a lot of overseas tourists who will be looking for inoffensive art that will be pretty on their walls at home, and remind them of their time in South Africa. What’s more enjoyable to the masses than a landscape or wildlife artwork?

From where do you get your inspiration?
Xenia: As a portrait artist, definitely from people. I take my inspiration f rom those around me, from people I meet, although it’s difficult to articulate what it is about people that make me want to paint them. Most of my portraits have the subject staring directly at the viewer, which in a sense translates the connection I feel towards my  subjects. The idea of capturing a rawness in the essence of sharing a connection with someone.

Casandra: A lot of my inspiration stems from keeping my eye on what is happening in the now. Being an artist requires a lot of introspection and extrospection, both of which I do a lot! Our scope of what we know and understand about the world is always expanding, especially when you meet new people and start experiencing new aspects of life, so I
definitely live a lot of my life craving and chasing those new experiences, because I know it will serve me well to expand my knowledge about the world and how I understand it.

What is your favourite medium?
Xenia: Oil painting, which to a certain degree feels like alchemy. Creating or being able to take paint and create or duplicate an image is a magical experience. Oil has a richness and
translucency to it that cannot be matched by any other medium. It is the medium that I feel translates my thoughts and feelings in their truest form.

Casandra: Definitely photography. What I especially love about it is not only the way in  which it has been explored as a medium and challenged as a discourse, but also that because of the way our society is, it is probably one of the most accessible forms of self-expression (what cellphone doesn’t come equipped with a camera these days?). Which also gives us access and insight into people, places and moments that previously have not been archived the way they are now.

Why do you think art is so important in the world?
Xenia: Art has traditionally been grouped together with the academic thinkers,  mathematicians, philosophers and systems. Contemporary art has expanded its practice to fall both in and out of these lines. Art is a different way of seeing and doing that reflects
the things we might have missed, whether about ourselves or about the world.

Casandra: When I talk or think about art, I like to think of it as this multifaceted medium. What can’t art do or provide? It can be pleasing, it can be emotive, political, cathartic,
tremulous, challenging and even spiritual. It feeds our souls, makes us question things, deepens our understanding of ourselves and others. Why wouldn’t we want art in our lives?

What inspired Lowveld Figure Drawing?
Not only was it important for us to create this platform to bring artists together, but to bring artists back to the fundamentals of our practice. There is a huge importance with the way in which you need to observe and see when it comes to drawing from life. If you study art, then drawing is one of your core subjects, and that’s done for an important reason! You strengthen your way of seeing, and it becomes a vital skill you carry through your life.

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