Evocative and striking

2012-11-08 00:00

TUCKED away in a charming house on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, Shirley McDaniel has been hard at work creating evocative paintings.

Now, for the first time, art lovers and old friends from Pietermaritzburg will be able to see her images of nurturing womanhood and spirituality first-hand at the Blue Caterpillar Gallery, at Butterflies for Africa.

McDaniel was born in Port Shepstone in 1951. The youngest of five children, she developed an interest in art from an early age. But it wasn’t until the family relocated to the capital that she got the chance to develop her talent.

“My parents enrolled me at Wykeham (now The Wykeham Collegiate). At the time, the art teacher was Valerie Leigh [former director of the Tatham Art Gallery and a successful artist in her own right]. She was simply wonderful and really encouraged my love of art.”

After spending a couple of years studying at the Johannesburg School of Art, Ballet, Drama and Music, McDaniel decided to devote herself to her family — husband, Barry, and children, Catherine and Matthew.

However, she continued to nurture her creative side by making bedspreads out of recycled fabric and ornate mirror frames from a range of recycled materials, including shoes and dolls. These beautiful pieces adorn the walls of her home in Trafalgar, next to paintings from friends, and her own striking works.

Later, when she felt her children no longer needed her around on a full-time basis, McDaniel enrolled at the Witwatersrand Technikon, graduating, at the age of 38, with a diploma in fine arts in 1989. A year later, she and a friend, Paula Malherbe, set up the Greenway Art Studio in Greenside, Johannesburg, where they taught art to students of all ages. McDaniel continued to run the studio until the family moved to the South Coast in 1996 — where, for the past 16 years, she’s had the space and time to explore and celebrate her talent. “Working here, I’ve been so secluded. It’s given me the chance and the time to paint ... it’s been so wonderful,” McDaniel said.

That time and creative energy have resulted in a substantial body of work. Visiting her studio on the ground floor of the house in Beatty Drive is a little like entering an Aladdin’s cave of delights. The walls are covered in art and unframed canvases seem to fill every space.

McDaniel’s paintings are mostly acrylic painted on cloth and the subjects predominantly women, who are alone or with children. Looking at the paintings, I’m struck by the almost iconographic nature of her work. Asked if this was a conscious decision, she says: “I love Russian icons. So, yes, some of the work does look a bit like the images you see in Russian Orthodox churches.

“But I also love carpets, especially the intricate patterns, and that comes through in the work, as does the whole concept of nurturing. Being a parent, a mother, I guess it’s why I paint so many women. I think women are a link, a human connection — not just to children, but to friends. To me they are a symbol of connectedness.”

McDaniel’s exhibition can be viewed at the Blue Caterpillar Gallery at Butterflies for Africa in Willowton Road, Pietermaritzburg, until December 15.

Butterflies for Africa is open from 9 am to 4 pm Tuesday to Friday, 9.30 am to 3.30 pm on Saturday, and 10.30 am to 3.30 pm on Sunday. Inquiries: Jeni Cramer at 033 387 1356.

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