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Biography

Stella Shawzin, born in Transvaal, South Africa and trained from an early age as an actress, singer and dancer and appeared in England in plays and films.

Study of painting under the great colourist Martin Bloch in London inspired her to paint. Attendance at the 57th Street Art Students League of New York, to study anatomy under George Bridgeman and painting under Frank Vincent DuMond and Yasuo Kuniyoshi, was followed by a period at the Pratt Institute Workshop for Artists, to study graphic techniques.

Her first models as a painter were skollies, local ruffians in the Cape Town area, and Herrero and Mponga tribes sat for her. She never painted a model from one view only - walking around and painting five different versions of the sitter in the same position. As a perfectionist, she would reject four paintings and keep the best. The colour palette adopted in these rare works (many were lost in a fire) comes partly from her love of Africa and its earthy soil-derived tribal textures of red sienna and yellow ochre.

Her interest in lithography and engraving was nurtured, respectively, with Michael Ponce de Leon and Anthony Harrison's studio.

One day after leaving plates in acid overnight, having destroyed the image, she coloured these plates with different acids, turning them into paintings. Her husband encouraged her by presenting a neatly wrapped parcel, inside of which was a welding torch and attached to it a note which read : "What you can break down you can build up - Love, Len".

She ran her own foundry in Constantia, Cape Town, helped by assistant Simon Monakali. Particularly large sculptures were carved at Carlo Nicoli's studio in Carrara, Italy.

Her subjects - 'animaliers', insects, birds, horses, family groups, figures in landscape - are veined with an African imprint. But her preoccupation now is the broad spectrum of humanity, the emotional impact of a lifetime, and these are expressed in as pure and simple a way as possible.

Video

Click here for a video of Stella Shawzin at work.