Magical Art in Action by Sonnett Olls

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The morning light floods into the moderately sized room in the Albany Museum. The range of acrylic dancing figures, watercolor flowers and lively landscapes are decorated with dappled light leaving the space animated and energetic. Sonnett Olls has been painting for her whole life and has been coming the NAF for the past 25 years, she mentions that art is a part of who she is.  “I just love painting; it’s a passion,” she explains. “You can’t breathe if you don’t paint.” By Shannon Wilson.

Olls’s method painting – on show at her Art in Action exhibition – involves a progression from impressionistic to expressionistic and then on to abstract. This is a result of understanding the feel for the place and landscapes that Olls is painting.

Initially her aim is to capture the reality of the location in which she is immersed after which she expresses the feeling of the place and the truth of what she sees.  Olls engages with every aspect of art: teaching it, creating it and being fully immersed in it.

“I’ll sit out in the countryside and just feel the atmosphere first, and then I’ll start looking around and eventually I’ll start painting.”

Olls likes to leave her paintings with a ‘question mark’. She allows the viewers to take what they will from the painting for themselves: “The spectator is also an artist and I trust him to be one.”

“Art is like poetry,” says Olls, explaining her statement with a poem by Lucas Maree.  While passing through the Karoo, Maree stopped at a tree. As he looked at the night and at the stars, he said that they were green and blue and yellow and pink and red and he realized in the Karoo you must either paint or sing or do a poem, or else you must cry like a jackal from star to star.

Olls took his advice and painted the night skies outside in the Karoo. These paintings formed part of a series that were a result of the experience.

Olls recalls painting this particular picture while listening to a song by Phillip Phillips. In the song, he says that after travelling, whenever he looked back on all his experiences in his life he saw that he was never alone. Olls drew inspiration from his words and created this vibrant and rapturous piece.

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Olls puts the saying ‘waste not, want not’ to work in her art as she uses her paint palette to create new works. “It’s great to use your palette, because you’ve mixed your colours, you’ve got you brush strokes on the palette, you see images there and you capture the absolute essence in that and you simply recognize the shapes in that and complete the painting,” says Olls.

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An American tourist once approached Olls while she was doing murals in Canal Walk in Cape Town and asked if he could buy her painting. After this, she decided to do a whole series of them. Olls explains that she always sees human figures in her work, and these are some of those figures she speaks of.

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These African landscape. You know when you live in Africa you feel for Africa and this is also one of those figure things where the spectator completes the image.

Each piece has a story of where it started, and in turn tells its own story once finished.

Feeling most content in nature and painting the natural world, Olls speaks of the wonderful feeling she experiences when being out in the sun with the wind and feeling the atmosphere before representing what she sees. Her passion for art and nature is palpable.

Olls embraces all aspects of culture. About six years ago she started a festival in Middelburg, now established as the Karoo Heartland Arts Festival. Olls went to all the schools and asked teachers to organize concerts: she wanted music, poetry and dancing on the stage. Four schools came together. The children sang and danced while Olls painted with them on stage, even inviting some children from the audience to help her paint the grass on her landscape.

Children as young as seven years old were doing the tango! Olls felt blessed to experience this explosion of culture. A community came together and selection of beautiful paintings was created. From this, the children saw that it was not hard to paint and Olls began teaching them.

“It was the most creative thing that I had done in my life!” exlaims Olls.

Olls repeated the experience in Grahamstown with a jazz band later in the same year.

Living in both Middelburg and New Zealand Olls has a lot more inspiration to draw on and will continue teaching in both places. “Every country has its own charm and you have to make yourself happy where you are but I have got Africa in my blood!” says Olls.

Today, Olls runs a gallery in Middelburg. The Sonnett Olls Art Gallery exhibits all arts and crafts from Middelburg and the surrounding areas. The production of unique Middelburg clay pots are also in the making and will be on display soon. Community arts and crafts projects are showcased in the gallery as well.

Catch Olls’s Art In Action exhibition at the Albany Museum from 9am to 5pm until 10 July. A visit would make for a great family outing, as Olls encourages children and adults to come and create their own works of art while viewing the exhibition.

By Shannon Wilson
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