Marie Vermeulen-Breedt is a dedicated artist who has produced an impressive collection of work and has built for herself a successful career with works in the major collections of banks, businesses and universities both locally and internationally.
There are definite thematic periods in my work that correspond with different times in my life. In the 1970’s and early 1980’s, when my children were small, I mostly did child studies. After hearing a lecture by Prof Alan Crump at the Watercolour Society in 1982, I was inspired to spend the next five years experimenting, with little concern about whether my work sold or not. In the late 1980’s after moving to the farm in Bapsfontein, I began my erotic studies that included nudes and forbidden fruits. This is one theme that has resurfaced over the years. In the 1990’s my work was primarily interiors and horses, reflecting my time on the farm and travelling through the South African countryside.
Marie has an honest approach to portraiture and has made her a popular choice for maintaining iconic figures. She has a keen eye that doesn’t miss much and with her easy manner she puts people at ease. The artist’s portraits depict the sitter in a moment that exposes their true self, and capture revealing aspects of people’s personalities. Rory Bester, art historian and critic, regards this ability a true test of a good portraitist.
Marie has created a remarkable record of the everyday lives of a cross-section of South African society, featuring politicians, business people, academics, farm and domestic workers.
My portraits of Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki were unusual in that I had to work mostly form photographs. Commissioned for the University of Pretoria’s new human rights law library, they were unveiled by President Mbeke. As Oliver Tambo was already deceased, I did picture research at the University of Fort Hare, and also visited and interviewed Adelaide and Dali Tambo. They gave me additional photographs to work from. It was impossible to have Mandela and Mbeki sit for me, but I’d met both of them before, and had a strong visual sense of their public personas in my head. As public figures, they are often in the media, and the combination of careful observation of photographs from the Pretoria News archives and television footage, along with personal recollections, allowed me to build clear mental pictures from which I could begin to understand Mandela’s and Mbeki’s individual personalities.
Interiors are an extension of the persona of whoever inhabits them. That’s why I call my interior paintings “portraits by omission”. The inhabitants are nowhere to be seen, but they are also everywhere in the way that they’ve occupied the interiors. So it’s not surprising that I’m drawn to interiors that portray something of the character of the inhabitants. The interiors remember the habits of the inhabitants. At the same time, I’m drawn to interiors that evoke precious memories from my own life. I paint the rooms, furniture, objects and light in other people’s homes when they remind me of the houses I grew up in. I’m often looking back at my own memories – my own “interior”- through the interiors of others. This is especially strong in early memories of living with my grandmother in Pretoria West.
Horses are a symbol of strength and beauty in my paintings, and I’m especially drawn to painting the relationship between humans and these animals, whether saddling up in the stables or riding out of the farm. In the stables, I’m drawn to the quieter- and often more intimate- moments between the horses and the people attending them, and with riding scenes I try to capture the oneness of horse and rider, their synergy in movement through the landscape. But no matter where I paint my horses, it’s always the physical appearance of the animal that’s most aesthetically pleasing to me. A horse really is the most beautiful animal to paint!
Horses are so much a part of my home and daily life. I love seeing them running at the bottom of the garden. I visit my stables every day, even when they’re empty and quiet. I love their smells and sounds – they might be environments only horses can inhabit, but they still have a special warmth and feeling that makes me want to linger. My paintings of stables are another kind of portrait by omission, again because they are so particular to horses. Here is also a tactile quality to stables that translates very well into paintings and because the dogs are always there with me, they often become a natural part of the paintings.
Even after painting for so long, and working with so many subjects, a bare white canvas remains intimidating when starting a painting. This is primarily because I don’t know where to end the movement of the brush, and the edge of the canvas is already very imposing. That’s why I prefer to paint onto a colour that I’ve already put down on the canvas and why I do a whole lot of canvases with different backgrounds, and then work over them at later dates. Painting is often a journey in which I revisit the same canvases over and over. It’s a journey that never really ends and I am often drawn to rework canvases that I thought were finished a long time ago.
Marie’s landscapes are telling tales of journeys taken, not taken or those still to come. There is a sense of movement that feels unending. Like my interiors, my landscapes are often bathed in late afternoon sunlight. It brings a calming effect to the landscapes. This particular effect is important to me in my landscapes. If there is something disruptive in the scene I’m painting, something that makes me feel unsettled, I’ll remain true to what’s there in my view- it’ll be there as a layer of observed and painted space – but it’ll be obscured with dust or mist that I’ve subsequently added over the disquiet. I won’t not paint the disquiet. I’ll just obscure it afterwards! This process of revealing and concealing what’s in the landscape is about echoing the things I want to see and obscuring those things I don’t want in my milieu.
Marie Vermeulen - Breedt’s paintings have the ability to project a mood in much the same fashion as delicious food or soothing music would do. They are pure compositions of the celebration of life.