The art of Ryno Swart
1st January, 2014.

Notes from my studio
. .

I wish you a Happy New Year.
Make 2014 a special one.
Make a dream come true.

The artist.

The dance hall changes when he walks in. It is quieter, slower. He pulls his bowler hat firmly onto his head. Waddling from side to side on his stumpy legs with his sketchbook under his arm, the tables and chairs seem to make room for his passage. White tablecloths hang in solemn stillness, heavy and respectful. Only the excited people carry on their noisy chatter.

He makes his way to the raised platform to the right of the low stage door in near total darkness. He adjusts the bentwood chair to face the stage, the table-edge at his elbow, and stares at his sketchbook through his pince-nez, smoothing down a fresh page in the gloom.

In spite of the racket of the small orchestra, and the shouts of conversation, the room is strangely quiet. Waiters in long white aprons glide like ghosts, trays held as high as their chins. Candlelight plays over porcelain and silver, glows in deep burgundy and claret. The bright dresses of the women are as muted as the black frock-coats of their companions. The little orchestra creates a deliberate silence, signaling the storm to come. The musicians look at each other, smug in their knowledge of what follows. The double bass plucks a leisurely rhythm, slowing down until the room becomes aware and turns to face the curtains. The pianist leans back on his chair, tapping one-finger rhythms.

A troupe of dancers triggers the orchestra. The girls stampede into the room over pounding crashing rhythms, the music burns in minor chords, chords picked up in the muted blues, greys and silvers of the dancers' costumes. The artist's pencil flies over the dark pages of his sketchbook, drawing blind in the blackness.

Even their ostrich feather headgear and their boas are muted towards golds and pewters, the music and the rhythms sad, blue, but virile, contrast coming from their white and cream undergarments, flashing and falling... until in an explosion of primaries, the girls of the quadrille burst into action.

Now all is color, color in a major key. A slash of yellow, a burst of red. He draws, transfixed. What ends up on the paper he cannot see, nor know, nor care. He draws the flash of legs and the swirl of skirts. He draws the path of motion and the contour of form, insensible to anything else.

A form blocks his vision. A shadow in shadows. She leans over his table. No words can be heard in the musical din.

May I light a candle for you, Monsieur?

Are you wearing anything underneath that?

... so that you can see your drawing..?

Are you an angel, Mademoiselle, or a siren, or a muse?

His hand slides up the back of her knee, fluffing up her long, multi-layered dress.

Monsieur! But she does not move away. The match in her hand does not waver or flicker as the leans over to light the candle. In the golden glow she is beautiful. His drawing hand casts a dark shadow over the linen tablecloth. She smiles, and then she is gone.

The candlelight plays on his glasses as he turns over his pages, intrigued by the loose scribbles and the energy of chaos on the paper. He finds a new page, settles himself, and contemplates the room before resuming his drawing.

Across the room, among the tables, he sees her, and hears her raucous laughter. She stomps and twirls, kicks and flashes her unmentionables to the joy of light and dark and music and color. In the crowded dance hall, she dances for him. He laughs, and turns his chair to follow her with his pencil.

Outside the street is dark with scattered lamplight. Horsedrawn carriages crunch on the gravel. The opening doors send a stream of golden light over the sidewalk and the cobbled road. People exit, laughing and turning to their companions, drawn to the joy of music and dance.

The artist looks back at the girl, just behind him. She laughs and says something, lost in the noise, points to his sketch book. He lifts it as he walks. Then she walks past him, smiling as she passes.

Until next time, Monsieur. Unheard.

Across the road a young cavalry officer waits. She runs up to him, links her arm into his, and they leave, she with a last happy glance back at the artist.

He lowers his head and sets off up the hill towards his studio. He does not see the kiss she blows him.

His door opens onto a cavern of canvas and easels, color blooming as his lamp slowly blossoms into light. In a corner is a bed and a chair. In the lonely silence he puts his sketchbook on the bedside table. He places the gently humming lamp next to the sketchbook. Standing, he slowly turns the pages.

Then he removes his coat and loosens his braces, washes his face in a basin, dries his hands and moves toward his bed. Lost in thought, he pulls out his long shirttails and removes his shoes and pants. His hands massage his tired and painful thighs.

His legs, too short and fragile for a man, are perfect for a goat, their smooth brown pelt glowing in the lamplight. He rubs his small cloven hooves, pulls back the sheets, and gets into bed, settling into the soft pillows.

He removes his bowler hat and places it on the chair, snuggles down until the pillows cradle his little horns, folds his hands over his chest, sighs, and turns out the lamp.

The touch of the brush.

"Licking" and "tickling" and "scratching" are considered bad habits for a painter. But these words nicely express the tactile quality of the brush, as do "touch" and "drag" and "stroke" and "kiss".

We see not with our eyes, but with our attention, and we touch not with our fingers, but with our attention.

It is our attention which hears the birds outside, our attention that sees the gold on a young woman's hair, our attention which caresses the curves of her body.

Our brushwork corresponds to the quality of our visual experience. We cannot express what we cannot feel.

Art is a sensual activity. The brush has to kiss the petals of a rose, or of a mouth. It has to caress the small of a back, to sculpt the bone structure of an ankle, and to bite down on an earlobe.

The quality of the painting is identical to the experience. Certain surfaces demand a firm touch, others gentleness. Some invite breathlike colour, others invite the slow and intimate lick of a cat's tongue. We see smears, slashes, scrapes, flares and streaks, and our brushwork will want to echo these qualities, if only we will let it: not a mouth, but a smudge; not tears, but a blur.

The touch of a brush conveys the taste and perfume of the surface portrayed; the glory of skin painted from life, or the taste of ink and paper painted from a photograph.

Sculpture is intimate, because of the tactile sense of muscle and bone and skin; oil painting because of the sensitivity of the brush, the viscosity and the impasto of transitions of colour and texture; and watercolour because of the freshness of the petals of dried colour. It is intimacy which makes art sing. Sing and dance and take off its clothes...

Venice and Simonstown. Workshops 2014.

I am now taking final bookings for my workshop in Venice, 26 February to 4th March 2014.

R 16 500 (1 164 Euro) per person sharing for 11 nights, airfare and travel not included, so that you can arrive from any corner of the world. Price for a single room is R 18 500.

It is still possible to join me for mist, mystery, magic and Carnevale. A deposit of R3000 is required by mid-January.

Email me for a free full colour brochure on this winter workshop and find more information at

In Simonstown, for 2014, my first workshop will be a 5 day figure painting in oils, from 13 Jan to 17 Jan.

The cost for a 5 day workshop (10 sessions) is R3000.
Typical times: 10 till 12 and 1 till 3, Monday to Friday.

Payment on commencement. Email me for details on equipment and materials.


At the Moulin Rouge - crop
At the Moulin Rouge (crop). 1990s.


On the web

Ryno Swart Art Gallery

St George's Street, Simon's Town.
Let's have coffee!


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You never will love art well, till you love what she mirrors, better.
John Ruskin