The South African painter inspired by matter and ideals, miniatures and sporting echoes

“My works, especially the bigger ones, look like abstract pieces when viewed from a distance. If observers get closer and approach the paintings, however, they discover my miniatures. This intimate investigation offers hidden meanings. And I think it forms a strong parallel with our existence. After all, if we look at the world from above, all of us are miniatures.”

The whole world is a canvas and we walk inside it. All we have to do is look from above. The artistic philosophy of Werner Bronkhorst, a 21-year-old South African who has settled his inspiration on the Australian coast, is encapsulated in this concept-manifesto. Werner is a self-taught artist with extensive craftsmanship, and his canvases speak of the relationship with material, but also of the intertwining between size and colour, surfing and skiing. His (often sporty) microuniverses arise from the use of heavy materials that become hyperactive sets and natural scenery populated by tiny protagonists.

I started painting in 2018, because my sister always did it and influenced me. Another great source of inspiration was the South African painter Lorraine Loots, her paintings are famous for being as big as coins: thanks to her I was fascinated by miniatures and started painting them. The real ‘eureka moment’ came by painting a piece of wood. I’m also a furniture craftsman and by chance I began to paint white or yellow textured ‘backgrounds’ composed of different poor materials – materials that in theory have little to do with art. These atypical canvases immediately looked like landscapes to me. The first time I thought I was looking at snow-capped mountains, so I decided to paint a series of skiers on them. Then the mountains were followed by beaches, water sports, surfers, etc. I also decided to film the creation processes of the various works, sharing them on social media: people began to appreciate and follow my work in this way.”

And social media have turned out to be key means for this young artist’s breakthrough. Instagram and TikTok have become the digital galleries where personal creations can be exhibited and, at the same time, explained: essential tools for building strong ties with the present and future audiences, but also for allowing anyone to evaluate and purchase works that are not meant to be elitist. Because art, Werner explains, can and should coincide with sport and its ideal openness to everyone, regardless of one’s bank account.

“Social media makes everything accessible, and I want my works to be accessible, like sports. I want them to be democratic. Art and sports are so similar – They are not obligation, they are leisure. They have so much in common and they manage to bring so many people together…. I want everyone to be able to paint or buy a painting, which is why I have not associated myself with specific galleries. I don’t want exclusive relationships that would make my works unattainable for so many people. Speaking of sports, I met surfing in Australia and immediately started painting it. When you surf you feel like you are in a special place, where so many human beings come together because of their passion for waves. The same goes for skiing, even though I have never skied. It’s ironic, I know, I paint skiers and yet I still haven’t been able to touch snow….”

Australia may not be the cradle of winter sports, but it’s certainly one of the epicenters of the contemporary art scene. And Werner Bronkhorst wants to radiate from this country his own fresh, reasoned creative conception. He wants to evolve his painterly vitality and explore new horizons, new platforms, new virtual options that can allow him on the one hand to continue an already defined path, and on the other hand to test unfamiliar tools, in search of another ‘eureka moment’.

“I’ve been in Australia for three years now, I’d come here from South Africa for a gap year and today I’m able to support myself through art and craft work, it’s amazing. The next goal is to move from the real world to the virtual one. I’ve never done digital works, but things are changing fast and I’m curious to interface with this innovative field. I hate replicating one thing over and over again, and I want people to have my unique pieces, so I’m sure there will be many changes in the future…. For the next step I’ll try to recreate the same feeling of a canvas in the virtual scenery – I don’t have a precise answer to this artistic quest yet, but you will find out soon!”

Photo Credits: Werner Bronkhorst
Text by: Gianmarco Pacione