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Spies Venter, artist and teacher
By Mike Ehrman, Garden Route Art. 2008.

A brief look at Spies Venter’s space gives you insight into his keen interest in art. But once you talk to him, you begin to understand his passion for art and the complex issues it evokes in him. His studio is a large and airy space, with walls, easels and stands filled with his sculpture, drawings, prints and paintings. These hint at the activity of making art, the process of discovery, which for Spies has a definite beginning and end; a metamorphosis involving research through sketches and drawings, looking at line and colour and the relationship found between them. Art is a medium he feels is never perfected’ there is a process which allows him to revisit his work, relook, rethink and rediscover himself and his passion.

His teaching space is large barn, walls and space filled with inspiration. Here, there is a hint of order, a clear process of learning; one can imagine the level of energy that fills the room. For Spies, exchanges with his students are mutually beneficial, although he is more the facilitator, this makes for an interesting process of discovery and learning.

Spies passes on his passion by teaching people the process of art. For him, art is a process of re-looking at one’s art and artistic concepts, a way of looking deep within, at one’s soul to derive inspiration and creativity. He has an insatiable hunger for self-expression and ultimately creative expression.

He has an academic background, having read for his BA Fine Art part time at Rhodes University and for his National Art teachers Diploma, he lectured at Stellenbosch, and the now University of Johannesburg Art Faculty.

He has reached a point in his career where he is at peace with himself, his accomplishments and secure in the knowledge that it is his art for sale, not himself. He feels there is a loss of creativity when people purely pursue art for financial rewards;"one loses the relatiy of the creative process when producing art for market”. He describes this as “conveyor belt art”.

Spies grew up in Port Elizabeth in a family of four; he is one of a twin. The Eastern Cape laid the foundation for an inquisitive nature. The region is evergreen, so leaving for the Highveld led to his discovery of the seasons – the changes and the contrasts the country undergoes as nature moves through the seasons.

Spies spent time overseas on An E.R Searle study bursary in Italy and Holland, and a British Council Scholarship, where his prime focus was post-graduate research into bronze casting and stone carving; in London he was exposed to new people with new ideas and a new way of looking at things. He discovered a different world to the one he was used to, a smaller world of unique people and cultures. There were also freedoms, away from the restrictions of a conservative and somewhat isolated South Africa. It was a time of re-adapting and reinventing himself.

Spies is currently working on paintings, sculptures and drawings of Namibia and its animals, having travelled from the north to the southern tip of the country. Striking aspects him were the space, the quiet, the ongoing and changing landscape that reinvented itself at every turn. The trip prompted the rediscovery of wildlife and the energies and beauty the various animals bring. He rediscovered the essence of the animals in an intricate wooden sculpture found at a roadside hut. Meeting the people, who spoke in his mother tongue, Afrikaans, and seeing their art through their words made him feel very much part of this earth.

Spies is currently reading books dissecting issues around art, including “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield, which deals with breaking through creative blockage, and “Art and Physics” by Leonard Schlain, a book describing how scientists view art.

For spies art is a balance and, for now, he is content. It seems he’s exactly where he wants to be; at the coast, on the Great Brak river in the Southern Cape.