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World Art Day: Inside the Intimate Creative Studios of 4 South African Artists

To explore an artist’s studio is to explore their mind. These four artists opened their space to us, showcasing their creative process

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By Kimberley Schoeman  | April 15, 2024 | Art

In celebration of World Art Day on 15 April 2024, we tuck into the House & Garden SA archives to see some of our favourite creatives in their studios.

An artist’s studio is just as telling of their process as much as their final artworks. If you ever have the opportunity to visit an artist’s studios, you soon learn that art never happens by chance. Art is created by chance of inspiration that has struck a match in the mind of an artist, which manifests in the seemingly intimate (and often private) world of their studios.

It’s no wonder artists find romantic (yet least of all glamorous) refuge in their studio spaces, a word deriving from studiolo, used in Renaissance Italy, which describes a study or a private place for reflection.

Inside the studio-showroom of fabric-dye artisan Genna Shosbree

Genna Shosbree. Photo by Greg Cox.

When a lifelong love of textiles led to an early career in the fashion industry, Genna Shosbree found herself thinking about unconventional ways to colour fabrics, and later developing a fascination with ancient methods of extracting pigment from plants, writes Cayleigh Bright.

Half a decade later, Genna has built a business, Beagle + Basset, around these techniques and the exceptional pieces that they produce. On the entrance wall of the Woodstock showroom are swatches of fabric that display the results of some of her experiments, and demonstrate the versatility of her raw materials. From one kind of plant matter can come any number of surprising colours, from pale and soft to bold and saturated. If you didn't think pecan nut shells could produce a beautiful pink, you would be mistaken.

The Cape Town showroom-studio of natural fabric dye artisans Beagle + Basset. Photo by Greg Cox.

The shop space is downstairs from the studio, and while upstairs is arguably more fascinating with its giant pots, drying fabric experiments and jars of intriguing powders, there's no shortage of beauty down here. The dominant texture is Genna’s fabric of choice – linen. Derived from flax, a crop with serious eco-conscious credentials, it needs comparatively few pesticides or fertilisers, is also low on water consumption and creates little waste as all parts of the plant, from seeds and oil to fibre, can be usefully employed in the creation of materials: paper and soap, among many. Genna works with metal salt mordants and fixatives to achieve her colour ranges, and also works with other fabrics, such as silk and wool.

Inside the Woodstock Studio of Artist Driaan Claasen

Artist and founder of Reticene Design Driaan Claassen in his studio in Woodstock, Cape Town. Image: Greg Cox

Exploring mental health, along with the impact of trauma, is a recurring theme in contemporary African art. Creating new visual metaphors of neurodiversity, Cape Town-based artist and studio Reticence Design founder, Driaan Claassen, takes viewers on a – often self-reflective – journey through the mind, each piece shaped by the myriad emotions he, as the artist, has felt.

‘Looking for Balance’ (painting) and ‘I am Worthy’ (sculpture), stand harmoniously in Driaan Claassen’s Woodstock studio. Image: Greg Cox.

His glass-walled Woodstock studio-cum-gallery (there’s also an in-house workshop), painted all white, is a lightbox within which he displays his pieces. Carved locally sourced wood stands tall, taking up space in a truly regal manner, whilst elsewhere, crystalline pieces shimmer in the sunlight.

Driaan Claassen’s studio in Woodstock, Cape Town is both a studio for his work and a gallery displaying his latest creations. Image: Greg Cox.

Central to Driaan’s practice is how materials are able to shape-shift and embody new traits while providing a cathartic experience for both artist and viewer. At a glance, there are works that feel almost anatomical while others look like they were carved by nature itself.

Inside painter Gabrielle Kruger’s Colourful Studio Space

Artist Gabrielle Kruger sits in her studio surrounded by her most recent pieces. Styling by Sanri Pienaar. Photography by Inge Prins.

Recently featured in our current Summer issue of House & Garden SA, painter Gabrielle Kruger showed us the textural and paint-filled landscape that is her Cape Town studio.

Gabrielle Kruger is an artist whose work challenges the boundaries of acrylic paint. Her exceptional talent ties in her ability to transform liquid paint into a tangible fabric, which she then sculpts into landscapes that are both captivating and, paradoxically, reminiscent of plastic.

“My main concern is how to convey these concerns in my work without contributing to environmental pollution, given the plastic-like material I use. In my studio, I'm conscientious about my materials, recycling them creatively,” says Kruger.

For instance, I repurpose dried paint cut from one painting into another, and I transform dried paint in my buckets into sculptures instead of washing them. I'll let it dry and peel all the remaining paint to make these 'paintiglomerates' of paint that I create sculptures with.“

The studio space is a hub for Kruger's creative experiments. Styling by Sanri Pienaar. Photography by Inge Prins.

Inside the Sleek Showroom of Water Dixon’s Caitlin Warther and Wendy Dixon

Water Dixon founders Cait Warther and Wendy Dixon with Ziggy, a toy poodle, at their studio in Cape Town. Photographed by Karl Rogers.

The story of Water Dixon is a series of fortunate events, a happy collection of auspicious coincidences – you could even say it was written in the stars – that led to the founding of perhaps one of the most directional artisan studios to emerge in recent years.

Co-owned by Cait Warther and Wendy Dixon, their eponymous-ish practice has brilliantly carved out a whole new niche in the collectible design space – that of a mirror and light-based sculpture. With a beautiful showroom in Cape Town’s colourful Bo-Kaap suburb, the Joburg-raised duo bring their unique backgrounds to the cape. Cait, an English and Philosophy major at the University of Edinburgh before studying Architectural Lighting Design and Interior Design at Parsons, and Wendy, who has a background in brand communication and graphic design and holds a post-grad in business studies, met through a mutual friend.

The Bo-Kaap showroom, workshop and office of Water Dixon. Photographed by Karl Rogers.