Elle Deco SA
Halcyon Dream (2016)/ Oil on tracing paper, 70 x 90.5 cm next to a photographic portrait of Ruby Swinney

The ethereal works of Cape Town based Artist, Ruby Swinney, explores a deep loss of faith in what it means to be human.  Her refreshing take on painting has caught our eye for a while now. We caught up with this young artist to find out more about her blossoming career, aspirations and insights to some of her latest work.  

What was your route to becoming an artist? 

I knew when I started doing art as a subject at school, that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life. Before then I had wanted to study music, having studied classical cello and piano. I attended Frank Joubert Art School and did painting with Liesl Hartman, and finished my matric at the Constantia Waldorf School. I graduated from Michaelis School of Art last year, and was incredibly fortunate to have my entire graduate exhibition bought by the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA). I am now working full time as an artist, represented by Whatiftheworld Gallery.

Elle Deco SA
The Escort (2016)/ Oil on tracing paper, 42 x 29,8 cm

Your colour choices have become an identifying point in your work, what dictates the colour palette you use? 

I have always loved muted pallets, possibly because of my interest in early black and white film and photography. I’m also interested in the emotive qualities of colour used by the German Expressionists and post-Impressionists. When I started experimenting with colour I found using a monochromatic palette intensified the mood of my paintings. I went through a phase of only painting in Payne’s grey in my second year at Michaelis, but when I realised I could create an “alive” grey by mixing crimson and green, my idea of colour changed completely.

Who are some of your favourite local artists?

This is a difficult question as many of them are friends of mine and I am probably biased. But if I think about artists from Cape Town who have personally inspired and helped me I would say Sanell Aggenbach first an foremost, alongside Jane Alexander, Penny Siopis and Kate Gottgens, as well as my peers Michaela Younge, Tiago Rodrigues and Gitte Moller. I have also found inspiration in Wim Botha’s installations, William Kentridge’s projections and operas, Nandipha Mntambo’s concepts and writings, and Zander Blom’s installations and experimentation with sound.

Elle Deco SA
Scorn at the River Bank (2016)/Oil on tracing paper

What is the most important thing you have learned in your career to date?

I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is to trust my own reservoir of feeling and experience, my personal fascinations and obsessions. If I didn’t work for myself first and foremost then I would not be able to work at it 12 hours a day, every day.

The human forms in your work are familiar yet alien. Who would you say are your influencers? 

The novel Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro has been a source that I constantly go back to in my work. There is something in the poignancy of clones trying to find their souls that haunted and touched me. I think of my figures as yearning for something they cannot attain – nostalgia for another time, an emptiness within themselves that they cannot fill, a longing for someone or something. They live in a kind of parallel universe, a twilight space, between here and the next world perhaps? The cone head figures in my work remind me of the soul or astral body, something we cannot see, unless in the etheric realm. But I don’t like to over explain my work. I hope the images evoke personal responses in the viewer.

Elle Deco SA
Image courtesy of smacgallery.com

What are your plans for the year ahead?

I am showing some work at the FNB Art Fair in Johannesburg this September, and I will be having a solo booth at the Cape Town Art Fair in February 2017.

Do you currently have your work exhibited anywhere? When can we expect to see your next show?

I don’t have work exhibited at the moment, but I will have some work showing at Whatiftheworld in December this year as part of a group show. I’m also very excited to have a solo show lined up for May next year at Whatiftheworld.

Elle Deco SA
Communion (2016)/ Oil on tracing paper, 84 x 59.5 cm

Words of wisdom?

Being an artist is to be plagued by self criticism and continual second guessing. I’ve realised that it is important to believe in what make, and not over-analyse everything before you give yourself a chance to actually make it. Playing is the primary occupation of the artist. The work that emerges in that unconscious space, is always surprising and energising. The more work I make the more I feel like making it.

Love Ruby’s work?

Visit her website to see more


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Bio: Tammy Joubert has a particular interest in decor and architectural design trends and how they coexist with graphic design and art, especially in a South African context. When she’s not illustrating or painting, she enjoys exploring peculiar places in Cape Town, reading Afrikaans Poetry and the occasional glass of red wine.