South African artist Ali Cockburn‘s application of paint on canvas ebbs and flows like the oceans that inspire her. Color, rhythm and unrestrained expression are boundless in the artist’s abstract paintings. “An ex-national swimmer and now an avid Stand Up Paddle (SUP) Boarder, I take a lot of inspiration from the ocean, its moods, the various life forms within it and the freedom and joy one experiences when in or near it.”
Please tell us more about your artistic process. How do you begin a painting?
I usually set off with a subject in mind as well as the colors I want to use. 80% of the time my thoughts and ideas are reflected in the finished canvas in front of me however, there are the times when things don’t quite go according to plan and I then have to work with what I see developing. Sometimes this can be very rewarding, other times completely frustrating. And then it’s back to the drawing board.
You’re an ex-national swimmer and athlete. What led to you becoming a painter?
I’ve always been creative, done a lot of writing in my PR business, been rather theatrical at dinner parties and often have had friends telling me I should host my own TV show, so I suppose taking this form of creativity to another level was a progression really. However, I really explored art when my mother became seriously ill, about five years ago and there was a strong possibility of losing her. The doctors told me to find another interest other than working all the hours in the day on my PR business – I would often still be working at 2 AM – or I would become ill myself. So I took myself off for a couple of oil painting lessons and despite not following the style of painting I was exposed to during the three-day workshops, things kind of evolved from there.
Have you always been engaged in abstraction, or did your work evolve to this style?
It definitely evolved. All my life I’ve wanted to be able to paint beautiful nudes and faces, however in the early days when I went on my first portrait workshop – in fact, it was the one and only I ever attended – I was told by well know Ballito based artist Jane Digby – that the nose on my man looked rather phallic. I knew that with that sort of style painting I was not going to set the world on fire. So that was that. Portraiture was out the window and everything else too. In the two prior workshops I’d attended with Jane, I remember she always kept telling me I wasted too much paint. Some things never change!
Your palette is so rich and nuanced. Tell us your feelings and inspiration regarding color.
In the early days, I almost always experimented with rather light tranquil sea colors – mainly different shades of blues, greens, grays. However, as I became more daring and took my ideas and experimenting to another level, encouraged of course by the beautiful morning sunrises, I decided to go a little bolder. So, as of late, I have been using more color and often, being an early riser, am privileged enough to witness the marvelous change of the sky as the sun rises. The space in front of my home is like an ever-changing canvas and I glean a lot of inspiration from this.
I love using metallics too and these add a sort of glamour aspect to a painting.
The images, and certainly the titles, are suggestive of landscape and nature. Is Ballito, the East Coast of South Africa part of your inspiration?
Most definitely. I live in one of the most beautiful parts of the country and have a changing canvas as part of my front garden. I’m inspired by the beautiful sunrises, the clear water, the crashing of the waves on the rocks below, the schools of dolphins that swim past my beach front home at least five times a day throughout the year, or the whales that, from the months of May to November, can be spotted on a daily basis on their way to their breeding ground in the Western Cape.
Then, of course, there are the days that I am able to spend out in the ocean on my paddle board. The tranquillity, peace, and beauty humble a person and it is often during these times that many ideas for my work come to the fore.
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