Painter’s worldview shaped by ‘industrial wasteland’ in which he grew up

Courtesy the artist Artist Daniel du Plessis was born in South Africa and grew up among “the extraction and dumping nature of gold-mining, strangely interspersed by areas of pristine grassland.”

Courtesy the artist Artist Daniel du Plessis was born in South Africa and grew up among “the extraction and dumping nature of gold-mining, strangely interspersed by areas of pristine grassland.”

Brandy Soto
Editorial Intern

Painter and part-time art teacher Daniel du Plessis began his art career in editing and design, but eventually found himself in fine arts. He was born in South Africa in 1953 and grew up in what he calls an “industrial wasteland,” which shaped his perspective of the world.
“[It was] created by the extraction and dumping nature of gold-mining, strangely interspersed by areas of pristine grassland,” he explains. “The harshness of the country’s political and social history, coupled with its celebrated natural beauty, had a big influence on my aesthetics and worldview.”
Du Plessis says he began drawing and painting from an early age. He took art courses in high school and continued his studies in college, where he majored in painting and drawing. He received an MA in fine arts from University of South Africa and an MFA from Cal State Fullerton.
Although he has been creating art all of his life, he says it didn’t become a professional career until he completed his master’s degree. Since then he has taught painting, life drawing and two-dimensional design at several community colleges and universities in Southern California. When he is not teaching students, Du Plessis is creating art of his own.
His paintings are vivid scenes that are deeply reminiscent of romance, the universe, and the aspect of time.
“Nature, garden, landscape and cosmic imagery unite to create imaginative, psychological environments with strong emotional undercurrents,” he says.
In 2011, he was the featured painter at the Orange County Fair and has exhibited throughout the United States, Turkey, Canada and South Africa.
He recently featured some of his work at the Mid-City Studio Tour in Long Beach. “I showed work from my most recent series, which shows cosmic imagery inspired by the Hubble Telescope,” he says.

In painting, what is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Every new work has its own challenges, and it is part of the creative process to resolve the compositional and formal problems.

Do you think about placement before you begin a project, or do you freestyle in the moment?
I start off with a rough composition but allow myself the freedom to explore new ideas as I go along.

Is there a special technique or theme that has become a staple of your art?
I often use a technique called glazing, which involves the use of many layers of transparent paint to create a sense of luminosity. Sometimes, I also use transparent layers of resin as a final coating to enhance the visual depth of works.

Is there a process in choosing the materials you will use for your paintings?
I normally use panels for acrylic and mixed-media works, and sometimes I glue a sheet of aluminum to the wood panel. Some of my works are done on transparent acrylic boxes, which allow me to work underneath and on top of the surface.
Do you feel that selling your work affects the creative process?
No, because I do not make works with the single purpose of selling it. For me, making the work and selling it are two separate things.

How has your artwork developed over the years?
As a young child, I saw a Dutch, 17th Century still-life painting at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. I was awestruck by the way the artist could depict dust on the bottles and other objects. That kind of acute observation and attention to detail form part of my current work; although I use naturalistic rendering to create convincing, imaginary worlds instead of “realistic” ones. A major turning point in my art came through studying and living in California and the exposure to the incredible diversity of artistic expression and culture here. California has a generosity of spirit that embraces idiosyncratic artistic vision; it’s a culture that values craftsmanship and imagination. It helped me to finally discard entrenched notions of what “fine art” is, should be and should look like.

Is there a piece that you favor more than others?
Normally I am “in love” with the current piece I am working on, or the last completed one.
How do you feel about others’ interpretations of your art?
I welcome different interpretations. Sometimes people see things that I may not have thought about, and that enriches my personal vision and insights.

Is there anything you hope people can take away from your pieces?
Most of my works deal with the passage of time and the fleeting nature of life, which are things that all people share.

In what type of setting do you work best?
I prefer working in a studio setting.

Are there any artists that influenced you?
I am constantly influenced by other artists. Among my major influences are Martin Johnson Heade, Caspar David Friedrich and Dutch, 17th Century artists, such as Rachel Ruysch. I transform disparate influences (Dutch vanitas and flower painting, Victorian fairy painting, Romanticism, Surrealism, and pop culture) into symbolic images that acquire new associations.

How has painting shaped who you are today, or who you want to be?
Art has been a part of my life for many years, so it is simply part of who I am.

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