In Studio with Swain Hoogervorst

Capetonian artist Swain Hoogervorst stumbled into a tropical jungle in Central America in 2012 and attributes the roots of his botanical abstracts to this profound experience.  

Whilst in the depths of preparation for his second solo exhibition at Cape Town’s Everard-Read this May, we chatted to Swain in his studio about his passion for colour, his desire to make expansive, lush landscapes you can disappear into, the relationships between paintings and photographs, and his journey to self-acceptance. 

Swain Hoogervorst in his Woodstock studio taking a break from work on his solo exhibition. With abstract botanicals at its core, the exhibition at Everard-Read Cape Town in April will also play on Swain’s interest in the relationships between paintings and photographs, paintings with one another, and the conversations these relationships spark off for a viewer.

Any notably illuminating moments in your life as an artist?

Yes, two.

When I was in Central America, I did a little watercolour on a hill there. I had very few materials, and yet it is one of my favourite paintings. It was an artwork so simple that a small child could have created it, but it revealed so much to me about what is possible in painting. When I stop thinking and trying to control an outcome, beautiful things happen. I guess that it’s about trying to find some flow and that therein lies one of the many paradoxes of painting – that there are so many things around us pulling us away from that simple beauty, but self-acceptance is very allowing.

Another moment was in Grade 11 when I painted my first seascape/landscape of Hermanus. I was trying to paint it exactly as it was, but accidentally put the wrong colour down and painted purple instead of white. I then went over it with white to try cover up the accident and instead something beautiful happened! That’s where my excitement in playing with colour began.

Work in progress.

What are the ‘roots’ of your botanical abstracts?

In 2012 I stumbled into the jungle of Central America, which was an incredible experience. Back in Cape Town holiday snaps taken in Nature’s Valley were the closest tropical landscape I could get to take me back to that experience.

I have this desire to make big lush landscapes you can disappear into versus the other thing that’s coming out in my work, which is the urban spaces in which I live and work. The same botanical theme is there it’s just been shifted slightly to an urban context where the relationship between plants and walls is interesting to me.

Photographs and paintings in progress.

Referential I, an abstract botanical, is one of four artworks selected for a countrywide Nando’s Southern African art-awareness campaign. Tell us about this piece.

Referential I was a painting that came out of a process that was both long and spontaneous. As I often do, I began this work with a photograph, and in the making of the work, there was a constant tension that perpetually comes from the balancing act between interpreting the reference versus relying on it. This work started off as something intentional and then, along the way, hit unplanned points that I liked. I drew out the process of painting it, stopping and starting over two or three months. My focus was more on reducing the amount of paint on the canvas rather than over painting. Referential I sparked a body of work, but I think this was the most successful one. 

Close up of abstract botanical in progress

A solo exhibition coming up in May is the culmination of two years of work. Fill us in.

Yes, it’s my second solo, and it opens on 10 May 2017 at Everard-Read Cape Town. For my first solo, I felt so much pressure to prove myself, but second time round my aim is to return to myself, in a sense, and to create a show that’s personal and genuine. I like that it’s very hard to lie with a painting, which makes no room for the editing processes of other mediums such as photography, film-making or even writing. Painting doesn’t really allow you to go back, you can only go forwards. And, painting always kind of shows what’s there – even if you’re trying to cover it up in some way. So, my approach to this exhibition is to be more confident in accepting the marks I make for what they are, which in turn is metaphor for my own personality and sense of self.

The exhibition will also express my interest in the relationships between paintings and photographs, and paintings with one another, creating a conversation which viewers can join in by applying their focus. 

Referential 4. Oil on canvas. 620 x 480mm, 2016

You’re a member of Nando’s Artists Society (NAS). How has this impacted your life as an artist?

For one it’s allowed me to live a more sustainable lifestyle and afforded me the opportunity to get this studio. I’m more financially stable. As members of NAS, we submit larger canvases monthly and get paid a fixed amount for a certain size. I see it as a larger form of Creative Block, a similar programme on larger canvases.

Follow Swain on his website and Instagram

Exhibition opens 10 May 2017 Everard-Read Cape Town.

Swain Hoogervorst, Referential I, Oil on canvas, 380 x 300mm, Nando’s UK.

Abstract painting and botanical photograph.

Swain Hoogervorst in his studio.

Close up work in progress

Stand a chance to win an original artwork!

Buy a Nando’s 1/4 chicken single side + 330ml Liqui-Fruit for R54.90 and SMS #nandosART, your name and email to 32141, and you could win an original artwork by your choice of four blazing hot talents –Swain Hoogervorst, Xolile Mtakatya, Nkoali Nawa or Karen Cronje.

*T&C’s apply, SMS costs R1, for full T&Cs visit

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