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Born November 29, 1958 in South Africa

“I capture my subjects’ emotions by focusing on the windows of their souls; the eyes.”

Immigrated to the United States: 1997, “Special Talent” immigration status.

Exhibits: United States, South Africa, Austria, Holland, Germany, Australia.

Sylvia de Villiers was born in Noorden (of Dutch immigrant parents) in Pretoria in 1958. From a very young age she drew remarkable sketches of the human form, flowers and wild life. She was destined for a careers in art, but was not formally educated as an artist due to the financial position of her parents. She has an older and younger sister. Both are married with children and live in Holland and South Africa.

She was a restless, energetic child, in love with life and adventure. She touched the lives of everybody she came into contact with. Her compassion and caring for others was often remarked upon. From the age of fifteen she regularly visited hospitals and institutions to be in the company of the elderly and orphaned children.

At seventeen, she worked as a florist and pursued her art on a part-time basis. She lived in a cottage and entertained lonely children over weekends. She took courses in advanced driving skills and sailing to satisfy her craving for adventure.

Her passion and zest for life were the attributes that kept her alive during a debilitating illness that struck her down much later in life and kept her from painting for more than two years.

She lived by herself in Holland for two years, at the age of eighteen, where she worked for an international horticultural company. Her knowledge of, and love for plants and flowers came in very handy. She supplemented her income by drawing portraits and flowers and working as a waitress in a restaurant. During this period she kept on following her passion to make a difference in the lives of those around her and regularly spent time with elderly, and lonely people, and neglected children in her free time.

At the age of twenty she went to Vienna where she worked as a florist, window dresser and even truck driver for a flower import company. Here too, she was able to supplement her income with her art, while in the company of flowers. She often did more than one job at the same time and saved money to travel, one of her passions in life. She speaks four languages, thanks to extensive travels. In fact she learned to speak German fluently over one year.

Back in South Africa, she worked as a sales-representative and pro which allowed her to travel extensively throughout Southern Africa. She was encouraged by local artists to take her art more seriously. This started to happen after her marriage in 1984, at the age of 25, to Casper de Villiers.

She participated in several successful exhibition and soon was inundated with private and corporate commissions for portraits, depictions of, wild life and still lives. Her paintings grace the walls of people in South Africa, Holland, Germany, Austria, Australia and the USA.

In 1990, after being exposed to some of her paintings the renowned sculptor, Felix de Weldon (creator of the Iwo Jima War Memorial) invited her to study at his Newport, Rhode Island studios for a period of six months. He described her ability to “capture the soul of her subjects” on canvas as “extraordinary and awesome”. He referred to her talent as an artist as “natural, uninhibited and refreshing”

Soon her hugely colourful canvasses drew more and more attention. She focused even more on her art at her studio in Cape Town and participated in several exhibitions in well-known galleries in South Africa. Despite her busy schedule that included life drawing at an art school in Cape Town, obligations as an active member of the Artists’ Cooperative and continued involvement in charity work, she still found the time to take three advanced courses in aromatherapy, shiatsu and acupressure. She did therapy for two days per week from her home in Cape Town. She avidly studied books on health and eating habits and tried to help people wherever she could.

Ironically she suffered from a mysterious illness that struck her down in 1994 and nearly caused her death. This debilitating condition paralysed her and lead to months in bed and even a near death experience. She describes this as the single most profound experience of her entire life. “I knew then that death could simply be commanded by mere decision on my part, but I knew that I still had tasks to fulfil on this earthly plane”. During this time she came to understand the magnanimous truth in the words of the poet, Kahil Gibran: “If you only see what light reveals, and if you only hear what sound announces, then neither do you see, nor do you hear.”

It was during this period that she decided to focus really seriously on her art. More than ever before she had an urge to inspire others and to beautify the world around her. It was in this period when she became the mentor of a young artist in Cape Town that was on the brink of self-destruction. The difference she made in the life of this fellow artist was a very rewarding experience for her.

Her unorthodox and rich use of colour, marked this new beginning for her and resulted in more exposure of her artwork, described by fellow artists and art lovers as phenomenal and totally unique in style. Her art became an intrinsic part of her world of giving. It was something she had an urge to share with others. Her paintings became the expressions of passion, beauty and emotion; all the things she holds so dear.

Her work portrays the art of living and the wonder of existence. Even amidst emotions of sadness and vulnerability in some of her creations, there is an ever-present element of hope and renewal. The renowned South-African sculptor, Jo Roos (creator of national and international monuments and sculptor of the Mandela bust) has this to say about Sylvia: “She is one of the earth’s honoured guests; the handful of people in each generation who truly makes the visible world a better place.”

An avid South African art collector and prominent businessman, Faik Haroun, who bought several of her paintings, had this to say: “She truly is a great artist, but defies the popular image of the great artist. Despite incredible talent and skill and a prodigious workload, she is always available to her patrons, even for unrelated matters.”

This artist with the feasting eyes, the caring soul and adventurous spirit was granted special immigration status in the US in 1997. She and her husband now live in Atlanta. In this brief period she already participated in three successful private exhibitions and was commissioned to do four paintings for business executives. She stays committed to what she regards as the most important thing in life: “positive input in the lives of others”. In the final analysis she firmly analysis she firmly believes what is so poignantly stated by Gerald Jampolski in his book, Love is letting go of Fear: “the giving motivation leads to a sense of inner peace and joy that is unrelated to time.”

The artwork of Sylvia de Villiers has been the subject of much discourse in relation to art and wildlife art. Read extracts from reviews below:

Sylvia de Villiers, a Noorden impressionist artist, has been painting since she was a teenager. At eighteen, she voyaged to Holland and Vienna where she trained in floral design, while expanding her technique in portrait sketching. Thanks to her extensive travels Sylvia is fluent in four languages: English, Dutch, German, and Afrikaans.

In 1990, she studied under the legendary sculptor Felix deWeldon, who encouraged Sylvia to take permanent residence in the United States. As a result Sylvia and her husband crossed the globe to relocate in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1994, Sylvia was struck with a debilitating illness prohibiting her to continue painting for over two years. Her determination to show “what light reveals and what sound announces” was the encouragement she needed to persevere over her illness. Today Sylvia is consumed doing what doctors told her she would never do again, “paint to her heart’s desire!”


Wildlife, adventure and narrative, annual wildlife exhibition at The Cape Gallery

Pause; the annual wildlife exhibition at The Cape Gallery
A point of view; group exhibitino at The Cape Gallery

The world we live in; annual wildlife exhibition at The Cape Gallery

Annual wildlife exhibition at The Cape Gallery

Extract from Wildlife Art January/February 2000

‘Wild Beasts – Expressionist Colour & Form’ by Marcia Preston
In a genre often characterised by detailed realism, these five painters are breaking the traditional boundaries of wildlife art with expressionistic colour and form.

At the 1905 Salon d’Automne in Paris, a group of artists shook the art establishment with an exhibit so radical in style and use of colour that a critic labelled the artists fauves – “wild beasts.” Among those who earned this characterisation was Henri Matisse, who exhibited a portrait of his wife rendered in flat planes of non-representational colour – and a green stripe down the center of her face.
The message was indeed clear: colour need not be subordinate to nature but can function instead as a tool the artist may use as she or he sees fit for a given composition.
The fauve movement lasted only a few years but was significant because it broke with long-standing boundaries and conventions of art, fauvism opened the way for unfettered exploration of shape and space by artists like Pablo Picasso and George Braque and for a group of German expressionists whose work seemed visibly influenced by that of Sigmund Freud, their contemporary in another field. These artists probed the subconscious and translated the emotions they found into dreamlike (sometimes nightmarish) art.

Nearly a century later. Echoes of these artistic free-thinkers appear in the works of a few artists whose subject matter includes wild beasts. Their works are distinguished by bold colour – that may or may not imitate the natural world – and by shapes and forms more symbolic tan realistic. They create on canvas and paper a separate reality, grounded but not bound by the emotional and mythical relationship between human and animal.

That the Camera Cannot

South African artist Sylvia de Villiers came to the United States in 1997 and settled in Atlanta. “Originally I painted wildlife realistically with great success when measured against demand,” de Villiers says, “but I often had the urge to portray what the camera often cannot: something inside the animal itself. I started experimenting with colour in expressing feeling and character. Soon I was convinced that what I am able to capture on canvas transcends that which any photo can convey.

“My paintings lean toward expressionism, in the sense that they defy stark realism, but also impressionism, in the sense that I get inspiration from the simplicity of everyday life.

“The psychological effect of colour is well-known, even in treating some ailments. Through unique use of colour; I am able to create animals true to their own natures. This is an awesome task, for it is never the random use of colour. It would be easier to paint just what I see. Here I am challenged to paint what I see, feel and experience.”

De Villiers paintings wildlife in oils, with short strokes of bold colour that draw the viewer to the emotional center of the animal’s eyes. Recently she began producing limited edition serigraphs on canvas, which she favours for its quality of reproduction.

Her work garnered the admiration of renowned sculptor Felix de Weldon (creator of the IWO Jima War Memorial), who commented on de Villiers’ “unique ability to capture vivid emotion, the essence of life and feeling. She has risen above mere technical artistic achievement [in] the refreshing and dramatic way in which she captures wildlife on canvas.”

Sylvia on her paintings:

“I find solace in the gracefulness and the sense of stability and reliability that I detect in horses. This is what I wanted to portray, as well as togetherness; and yet individuality that holds a special meaning for me.
The water drinking beauties display an inner energy and a strange tranquillity simultaneously, that is often difficult to capture in photo-like paintings. This painting reflects a peculiar and fascinating combination of power and inner peace.”

Grand Daddy:
“I am intrigued by the confidence, sleekness, and brute force of these basically lazy creatures with their superior, regal attitude . While I was playing with this cat on my canvas, I could hear his roar, stroke his mane and feel the true vibrations of the African bush. His eyes stared at me in recognition, sharing my passion for life.”

Symphony of Stripes:
“I wanted to portray the continuance of life, even in a savage jungle.
I wanted to capture the musical overtones of a singing heart, rejoicing in the beauty and rebirth of these zebras. On the left of this painting is a mother zebra. The baby covers the rest of the painting. The stripes dominate everything in this painting and are evidence of that which lasts, grows, and renews itself all the time.”

Extract from ‘…Not One Fits Into The Mould Of Traditional Wildlife Artist’ by Jeni Dalen

South African artist Sylvia de Villiers expresses her own passionate joy in colour. “I think [my art] sometimes looks like autumn leaves, the trees in fall where the colours pour all over each other. Every brush stroke is a different colour, and every colour is separately mixed,” she explains. Transplanted in the Atlanta, Georgia area nearly two years ago, her dialect remains wrapped in a fluid combination of romantic languages. “Somebody who has an eye for colour will see how many colours I use.”
To get the effect she desires, Sylvia must brush wet paint onto dry. “There are layers on layers, and sometimes glazings in between when they’re dry, as the Old Masters used to do. Because I prefer high-quality oils, and because of the way I paint, it’s a long process. I never studied art, so I don’t know what you would call my style. The technique I learned myself; it just sort of happened, over time.”
Though she often went on “trips that Americans would call ‘safaris’” as a child in South Africa, and has seen many African animals in their natural habitats, Sylvia started painting the wildlife of that continent only about seven years ago. Her speciality is actually portraiture, and the way she achieves texture and design in unique colours is her trademark. “I use all different colours on skin, too. Greens, oranges, purples – they must be exact shades, placed precisely. They are my fingerprint.”

Considering her background in faces and her penchant for relationships with living creatures, it is not surprising that Sylvia finds the eyes of her pigment-drenched animal subjects the most fascinating . “I like anything with eyes,” she asserts, “and especially the piercing focus of the cat family. Eyes show character, so deep – down to the soul, even. Detailed realism isn’t necessary to extract the character. It is more an understanding of the animals. I absolutely love them. They have their own secretive ways.”

It’s possible Sylvia means the unknown thoughts or questions wild animals have when they look straight into a human’s face, if indeed they “think’ or “question.” Perhaps more plausibly, though, her definition of “secretive ways” is defined by the effort artists expend to find, watch and record them is daunting.

Sylvia de Villiers
View larger image
Title: My friend Robin
Size: 80 x 60 cm
Media: Acrylic
Price: R 20 900 Unframed
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