Robert’s father was the well known painter Francois Badenhorst and his mother Kathy owned an art gallery. His early childhood memories are of sitting at the base of his father’s easel or being with his mother in her gallery.
With this upbringing one would expect him to follow in the family tradition, but after years of being exposed to the art world, he had reached saturation point. After achieving an E- for art in matric he went off on a tangent and his early employment included waiting on tables and even a stint as an apprentice gunsmith.
It was not long before he came to realise that he really wanted to paint, but was determined not to rely on the family name to find his place in the art world. “My father was well know for his detailed bush veld scenes and paintings of baobab trees. I bought the biggest palette knife I could find and began painting with the brightest colours in my paint box.”
Although his colour choice has changed he painted mostly with the knife. One of his most prized possessions was a palette knife given to him by his father. “I love being an artist,” says Robert, “as it gives me the opportunity to travel and meet people.” He took every opportunity to do a ‘road-trip’ finding interesting places and things to paint. Travelling 80 000 kilometres in a single year was not unusual. “On trips I look at the landscape and paint it in my mind (s-eye), analysing shapes and mixing colours.” He says that this exercise helps when he gets back in front of the easel: “It’s like I have painted the scene before.” Robert also works from reference material and has a particular love for painting in plain air.
His subjects were quite varied but he kept coming back to rural landscapes and city scenes, enjoying the energy and movement people bring to the street scenes in particular. A favourite subject was Jeppe, an old area on the outskirts of Johannesburg’s CBD. The area is known for its bustling street life with traders and shopkeepers displaying their goods on the pavements and shop fronts. “As it is an old part of the city, the architecture is interesting and has attracted many painters over the years, my father being one of the first).”
Robert remembers coming to Jeppe to buy a roll of canvas. Sitting in the car with his father he commented that, although he had never been there before, the place seemed familiar. It turned out that his father had made a painting of that very street: “It was imprinted in my memory,” says Robert.
In 2011 he decided to open his own gallery and with the help of Big Bad Bruce Weyer found the ideal spot in Clarens, and later opened a second gallery in Dullstroom. “I really enjoy the feedback you get from clients, it is truly rewarding and humbling.” His gregarious nature ensured that many of his clients became friends. “Some years ago, I sold a painting to the Brazilian sculptor, Aubrey Friedman, who regularly visits South Africa. On each occasion we would meet-up and a valuable friendship developed, and he has become a mentor to me.” “He invited me to visit him at his home on the island of Ihlabella. While there I did a lot of paintings which resulted in a successful exhibition of the work.”
Although Robert painted professionally for fifteen years he feels he has made real progress over the last past few years. “I am painting with confidence and enjoying the anticipation of the next painting.” He says that everyone would like immediate success, but warns against it: ”If you achieve quick financial success early in your career one can very easily get into a rut as a painter. You develop a product and a recipe, and you lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing. This brings about stagnation.”
“The way you grow as an artist is to step out of one’s your comfort zone and constantly strive for improvement in your technique and knowledge of your materials and art in general.” He believed an artist cannot work in isolation, placing a great deal of importance on networking and fellowship with other artists and learning from them. “. . I've learned valuable lessons from other painters like my dad Francois, Mike Parsons, Anton Benzon, Diane Erasmus and Richard Rennie, among others. We all have the same battles and are able to share and pass on useful advice.” “I enjoy going for a cup of tea with Auntie Jocelyn Boyley – it is good for the soul!”
He had a keen interest in the history of South Africa. “I enjoy writing and hope to one day complete a novel or two, or maybe even a book about the SA art world and all it's colourful, to say the least, characters.” Before his passing he was commissioned to complete a series of paintings for the Lakenvlei Heritage Site which is one of the most important historical sites in the old Transvaal and was able to complete two of these paintings which are hanging in the Dullstroom gallery.