The riddle from Heart Butte

Forty five wolves, he asked, forty eight deer. How many went hungry?

Answer at the bottom of this newsletter.

Naturalistic art

Of all the insults and abuse thrown at fine art (kitsch, sentimental, reactionary, literal, derivative) the most venom is in the term “naturalistic”.

Ruby. Watercolour. 1991

Ruby. Watercolour. 1991

Each of these epithets is demonstrably untrue.

In the age of modernism, naturalistic art has come to mean art of a photographic level of treatment. This is wrong.

Strangely enough the modernists have embraced photorealism and paintings copied from photographs as “Art” whiie rejecting work done from nature; figure, landscape and still life.

The word “naturalism” simply means, work based on the love of nature.

It is a word we need to accept and celebrate with pride. I am a naturalist. I paint for the love of mist and smoke, of dawn and rain, of shadow and light, of mystery and clarity, of visions half seen through tears of reverence; and I paint for the love of the human form, of dance and of music, and of lace and veils and silk.

We can also be called a realist if we paint social realities and the life of the workers, or a figurative artist if we paint portraits and figures, but before all else we are naturalists.

A Saturday Demo

My next Saturday Demo will be on the 27th June. The venue is the Saveur Restaurant on the middle level of the Simon’s Town Waterfront, by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur. And you do not have to bring a chair!

In a close harmony

Harmony is the greatest good.

When two people or two communities live in harmony the other virtues follow. There are clever bumper stickers which proclaim “No peace without justice.” That means no peace, ever, because justice is an impossible and even an ugly concept. An eye for an eye is the law of the godless.

Forgive. Love. Live in beauty.

The concept of harmony in music as in painting is a simple one. Notes and colours are in a relationship. When colours are opposed, discord results, and when they are adjacent, harmony. Simply, turquoise, blue and blue-violet are in harmony because they all belong to the blue range of hues. Even more harmonious is blue-green, green and yellow-green because each of them is a variation of green, they are all greens.

Secondary and tertiary colours are inclusive and muted. It is only the three primaries, red, yellow and blue, which are exclusive, each consisting only of itself.

Harmonies are perfectly possible in any one primary, such as a “rhapsody in blue”, but in such a case all the other colours in your painting should also be a variation of blue.

Light is colour. Without eyes no light and therefore no colour exists. Nature creates its own harmonies by the play of light, mist and sunset, underwater scenes, night and candlelight, moonlight and shadow.

If you would like to work in a harmony here is a simple method: Set out all your colours, then in front of each, place a small amount of your harmonic (your harmonising colour). Now mix your colours as normal, but introduce a touch of your harmonising colour into every mixture.

Ruskin says we can only see one thing, colour. Our whole visual experience is based on the perception of colour, including our perception of beauty and harmony. This may be why we find so much joy in paintings which feature beautiful notes and chords of colour, rather than sharp detail.

If we think of the harmonised colours as a fan in the colour wheel, the narrower the fan, the closer the harmony. But this harmony dies the moment we stop individuating every colour note, and we end up with a monochromatic mass.

I had a series of encounters or contemplations involving butterflies. As a child I always pitied butterflies for not being able to see “properly”, no focus, no directing of the attention, no detail. In one intimate encounter a butterfly died on my shoulder while I was teaching a class on colour perception and breaking up our field of vision into little squares (blokkies, Ash!) and I realised that the butterfly sees exactly like that in multiple fragments of pure, subtle and beautiful colour. Only more so, because as the butterfly moves through space the fragments of colour would shimmer and shift in a kaleidoscope or infinite beauty. A meaningful kaleidoscope because it perfectly depicts the environment.

No wonder the butterfly chooses a random, playful flightpath. It is simply getting intoxicated with the beauty and the dance of colour.

Nature speaks to us as long as we will be quiet and listen.

Watercolour workshop: The figure 

In July from the 6th to the 10th, I shall present a watercolour workshop at the Library Hall in Simon’s Town. The subject will be a figure study in costume.

Watercolour is at the same time the easiest and the most difficult technique. It is possible to do four or five watercolour paintings in five days, but there is always that element of luck (the work of the angels and the shoemaker’s elves).

The technique is important and demanding: a set of layers, each one wet in wet painting or else a fresh bold direct approach.

This is the first time in some years that I am teaching figure work in watercolour and I look forward to sharing it with you.

Daily 10 to 12 and 1 to 3. Price R3000.

Lose your heart and find your soul.

12 days in Venice. 19 to 31 October 2015.

Very few places remain now.

19 to 31 October 2015. 12 days painting with Ryno Swart. 

1200 Euro sharing and 1450 Euro for a single room.

Book by emailing Ryno or by phoning 021 786 3975.


Answer to the riddle: Five.

Do none of the tourist things. Be guided by your heart and by the stones under your feet.


Following the bald eagle

The love of nature can take us on unexpected journeys.

We were a group of friends, on our way to a Heart Butte, lost in the narrow dirt roads of rural Montana.

Looking back at some photographs in iPhoto, I noticed a small black mark on one of them, a picture taken from the car. At first I thought it was a speck of dust or a mark on the windscreens, because it was on a series of photographs. Looking closer it was an eagle, “a Bald Eagle” John called it, and the time signature on the pictures showed that it was flying ahead of our car from 5:05 until 6:36 p.m.

We were following the Bald Eagle for fully an hour and a half.

What was awaiting us at Heart Butte was a pow-wow, a meeting of the Blackfoot clan, with dancing and music and foodstalls and good fellowship.

Clare's white shirt

Clare’s White Shirt

The only “white folk” there, we were most graciously welcomed.

“I have a riddle for you white folk out there: forty wolves; forty eight deer. How many went hungry?”

Answer in my next newsletter.

A Saturday Demo

My last demo was particularly relaxed.

The light from the harbour was soft and my model wore a lovely white shirt with a high collar and puffed sleeves. In the two hours available I managed to capture some of the colour in the skin and the surroundings. Then I applied some strong white impastos to the shirt in preparation for glazes and further articulation, which I promised to show on the Internet.

This combined image shows the painting at the end of the demo and after this morning’s work when I articulated the whites of the sleeve.

My next Saturday Demo will be on the 27th June. The venue is the Saveur Restaurant on the middle level of the Simonstown Waterfront, by the jetty.

R60 includes a cup of coffee from Saveur. And you do not have to bring a chair!

My next 5 day workshop, 6 – 10 July will have as its subject the figure in watercolour.

The red cloche hat

Thoughts are things.

I have been working on a screenplay set partly in Paris in 1942. We meet my main character, an old lady, a vagrant, in the alleyways of Montmartre, rummaging among the garbage.

“The old woman rummages among the rubbish. She pulls out a hat, a cloche, muted red, and holds it up, inspecting it from all angles. Removing an old headscarf, her hair is grey and short in a ragged pageboy cut.

“MONIQUE: Oh ahah! Such beauty, such style!”

On the first day of my figure painting workshop, in a lovely synchronicity, Marisa turned up in a red cloche hat, stylish, and exactly what my subconscious had visualized.

These synchronicities happen with remarkable frequency. Some of my favourite models, Ruby, Kitty and Maria had all appeared in paintings of mine long before I met them, Ruby with her long long French plait, Kitty with her pageboy haircut, and Maria with her wild shock of red hair.

When Carl Jung invented the term, he believed that synchronicity had meaning. The problem is that we have no idea what that meaning is.

I have found my own meaning. Synchronicity means simply that synchronicity exists. The synchronous event tells us that things are connected on some spiritual level.

The Peacock Throne

A week ago we were at the memorial service for a young friend. In the living room was a beautiful Japanese wall hanging, the portrait of what I assumed to be a young princess, seated on a big throne. It was the throne that intrigued me. It was decorated with the carved heads of a domesticated bird. The companion piece was decorated with dragon head, which made sense: this would be “the Dragon Throne”.

Surely it cannot be a chicken, I thought, and not a guinea fowl. So what could it be? A peacock? Maybe. The phrase, “the Peacock Throne” made sense. Then my eyes fell upon a book underneath the coffee table with the title “the Peacock Throne.” I was so pleased by this synchronicity that I pointed it out to the young woman next to me, when the plot thickened. Chantal is from Toulouse in France and when I told her my name, she said “Oh, there is a man in Simon’s Town who is called Ryno. He is an artist. Oh, is that you?”

Another synchronicity. Then…

“Where did you hear my name?”

“It was an American girl. She had a young daughter called Clarissa, and she could not stop talking about this artist in South Africa and the way he teaches. That is why I still remember your name after all these years.”

Thea is a remarkable young woman. She set off an a world tour with her young daughter, staying in various places until it was time to move on. Their travels brought them to Simon’s Town where she came into my gallery and decided to stay a while. I invited her to attend one of my workshops as a guest and she was delighted, taking up her painting again. Then we lost touch, until the Peacock Throne created a link once more.

Recently Thea and Clarissa were running a home for stray dogs in Bali, and now they run an Art Studio and Tea Bar in Long Branch, New Jersey.


From Plato to Degas, many serious thinkers about art have preferred the look of unfinished work.

It was Degas who said that conversations are full of half-finished sentences, and that the same could apply to painting. On my first workshop at Devon Valley in Stellenbosch, the artists were rather anxious about finishing their paintings. I had with me a book on Degas with all of his works, and I wanted to show them one of his particularly beautiful and particularly unfinished paintings. As always happens I could not find the painting I was looking for so I just pointed at the page we were on.

“Look at this painting. It too, is unfinished,” and went to the next page… “and so is this one…”

I was shocked to realise that they were all unfinished! Every single painting by Degas, by my estimate the greatest artist in history, is unfinished.

So with the sculpture of Michelangelo. His most powerful works are his “captives”, struggling to break free from the rock.

In painting I favour a similar process, the painting rising from the chaos of a colour beginning as do thoughts and ideas from the subconscious.

Unfinished work shows the work coming into being, like a tree. When is a tree “finished”? When it is a seedling or a sapling or when it is young and lithe and slender; or when it is fully mature, or in its old age, struck by lightning and shattered by storm? At every moment and in every season the tree is perfect, but there is never any point at which it is “finished”.

All of this moves us on the subconscious, emotional level.

Art is the record of its own genesis.

Lose your heart and find your soul.

12 days in Venice. 19 to 31 October 2015.

12 days painting with Ryno Swart. 

Find my art.

View my work at and at my favourite galleries.

I have my model, my pencil, my paints. My mind doesn’t interest me.

Edgar Degas.