Art interview: Attie Esterhuizen – creativity comes about when you are in a calmer state and talking to the trees- exhibition opens November 1, 2021

Attie Esterhuizen- visual artist and composer

Latest project: I Talk to The Trees– art exhibition -at The Ladder,136 Bree Street, Cape Town- from November 1-30, 2021

Attie Esterhuizen art on social media

Attie Esterhuizen is an accomplished composer who has worked extensively with companies abroad such the Brussels Philharmonic and the Star Pop Orchestra in Paris. Prior to Covid, he was working on South African musicals but those projects were put on hold and he turned to his other passion – drawing and creating art works. Visual art was always something he did but it was during Rona that he was encouraged to exhibit his work in galleries and here he is with his 3rd solo show – I Talk to The Trees.

TheCapeRobyn:  What inspired this series of work, on this exhibition – I Talk To Trees- a particular tree or trees- something from your childhood?

Attie Esterhuizen: My walks in the forest inspired me to draw these trees. I’m currently sitting on a rock in the woods while I answer your lovely questions on my iPad. Everyone knows that a walk in the forest clears your mind and organises your thoughts. Creativity comes about when you are in that calmer state.

TheCapeRobyn:  Did you create this body of work, during Covid- or was it begun before? During Covid you were uprooted – in terms of your work as a composer for live performance. You had a musicals in the works (THE MP’S New Suit and Spud – the musical -with John van de Ruit). I am guessing that the image/motif/metaphor of trees, helped you to ground yourself during this time?

Attie Esterhuizen: Yes, I drew these during Covid. The musical, Spud, that I was working on, had to be halted due to the pandemic, and I had to find another creative outlet. I have had fun doing these drawings. Drawing the leaves in particular was very therapeutic. They are very small. I draw and paint each one individually. Talking to trees is more of a metaphor for being around nature. It is when you have those loud thoughts. It is as if the trees can hear them.

TheCapeRobyn: Is there a particular place, where you like to go and “talk” and commune with trees, in Cape Town?

Attie Esterhuizen: The forest behind my father’s house in Hout Bay is where I mostly walk. Any of the easy hiking trails around Constantia are some of the most beautiful places on earth.

TheCapeRobyn: In this show you use a combination of gold leaf and mixed media and oil pastels. Is this something new in your work or have you been working with this mix of media for some time?

Attie Esterhuizen: I have always worked with oil pastels. From a very young age my father and I would copy beautiful works of art using that medium. Oil pastels still have a stigma of being a medium that is not professional. I’d like to show how the medium can be used professionally with its own specific, complex techniques. I started using gold leaf to juxtapose the childish notion of oil crayons with something more delicate.

TheCapeRobyn:  Can you tell us about your life and what sparked your life as an artist?

Attie Esterhuizen: I was born in Johannesburg and went to an all-boys school which I hated. While all the other boys would be joining in on war-cries on the rugby field, my friends and I would be hiding quietly in a piano room by the music department, eating our lunches. When I turned 15, I got a scholarship to study music composition at an arts academy in Michigan. I was living with about 200 students for a period of three years. We became a big artsy family. Painters would fall in love with dancers and actors would have flings with violinists. It was perfect.

TheCapeRobyn: How did you end up working in Paris- composing musical works – performed by world renowned orchestras?

Attie Esterhuizen: After Michigan I moved to Boston to study at a conservatory, Longy School of Music. I worked hard and after a year I decided to move to Paris- because – I wanted to. I was part of the Paris Conservatory – école Normale de Musique – and all these incredible opportunities were happening around me. I had works performed by the Brussels Philharmonic and the Star Pop Orchestra in Paris. Because of certain projects, I got to record at top studios like Capitol Records in LA. A friend of mine is a conductor with his own orchestra and I had a few works performed by the orchestra. Through other students at the conservatory in Paris, I received commissions like a ballet and a short opera, to name a few.

TheCapeRobyn: What led you to branch into making visual art, in tandem with your music? 

Attie Esterhuizen: I I have always been working on works of art- usually on the dining room table. I would frame them but never monetised them. Several people suggested that I approach galleries and that was when I delved into the visual world.  I always say that if music is “organised sound”, my painting is “organised colour.”

TheCapeRobyn: This is your 3rd solo show – where and when were the others?

Attie Esterhuizen: My first show, in October 2020, was also at The LadderFlower People– images of bunches of people in vases. My second exhibition, Music will save the World, in March 2021, was at Cartel House, downtown Cape Town on Loop Street. It was fabulous.

TheCapeRobyn: Are you related to Nicholas and Anastasia Esterhuizen who established The Ladder, where you are exhibiting, I Talk To Trees?

Attie Esterhuizen: Yes, Nicky is my dear cousin. He is a great painter and stain-glass artist. I have learned so much from him. Stain-glass is about creating and combining light and colour. Nicholas also uses gold leaf when he paints the halos of religious icons.

TheCapeRobyn: What is on the cards for you – now that Covid is being tamed -hopefully- a return to composing music for live performance, films? How about designing sets for a musical – like Picasso and others have done?

Attie Esterhuizen: What a fun question.  Now the big work begins. I am going to be drawing every day, which is very important. I am fascinated by the uncharted territory of the Instagram and the scope for online artist – how digital images are being sold for millions. It is so incredibly new. Maybe I’ll try VR [virtual reality] art. I want to start immersing myself in the online world because we live in a new era of art and I’m in the mood for an adventure.

The Rondebosch Golf Club – Attie Esterhuizen. 96cm x 70cm.
The Dream Tree – Attie Esterhuizen. 96cm x 70cm.

This interview has been marginally edited for length and clarity. Images supplied.