Bruce Backhouse is an eminent landscape painter who lives in Johannesburg. Bruce started out as a fine art student at Rhodes University under Brian Bradshaw, then enjoyed a successful 25-year career in advertising as an art director and creative director. He spent eight years managing Image Bank South Africa before becoming a full-time artist in 2004.
Throughout his career, Bruce has immersed himself in the vast arid interior of South Africa – the Great Karoo and the Kalahari. His paintings are the consequence of his intense visceral relationship with uninhabited aridity devoid of human manipulation. He spent three months at Tswalu as the resident artist in 2019, producing a number of paintings that captured the diversity of the vast reserve.
‘All artists thrive on big chunks of uninterrupted time. Tswalu provides this perfectly. Concentration is effortless. Not only is the geographical environment ideal, but the studio makes for a working space that very quickly becomes your own. I have never in my career been as productive, without trying too hard. The time frame of three months suited me perfectly,’ explains Bruce.
His methodology was to ride his bike or walk at first light, and at the end of each day, he’d carry a sketchbook for referencing. Days were spent painting from memory, in the wonderfully private Tswalu studio.
At the end of this residency, he wrote: ‘I have always been drawn to that point where the sky touches the land, or the horizon, and how to interpret that onto paper or canvas. The Tswalu landscapes are highly complex, unique and varied. From clean skies that change daily, to rugged rolling mountains, to seemingly flat dunes that stretch on into a haze of white light. Then there are the colours. The Tswalu sand is impossible to capture. Depending on the light, one minute it’s burnt sienna, then … there are the seasons. As elusive as I’ve found Tswalu, I have found it as stimulating. I was fortunate enough to get two bites of Tswalu: before and after the rains. Hopefully, the sensual and atmospheric landscapes are captured on my large-scale canvases and works on paper.”
The result of this prolific sojourn in the southern Kalahari is The Clarity of Wilderness, Bruce Backhouse’s solo exhibition with the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg. His first online show, it ran from 8 June to 8 July 2020. View the exhibition