Photos by Lindy Truter
Light and shadow. Form and shape. Color and texture. Those principles are in every thing that we see and touch all around us. So why is it that a vintage Porsche or Harley Davidson can evoke such visceral emotions? Aren’t they simply objects made of some combination of all those things, just like everything else? Certain things have an intangible quality that brings out strong emotions within us. Some call it a soul.
Capturing the three dimensional world on a two dimensional surface can be a tough task but when it’s done well, it’s special. Claudia Liebenberg puts brush to paper and with her watercolors, captures more than just a motorcycle’s lines, shapes, forms or a boot’s texture and color, she captures its very soul. The subtle nuances of the way the colors and paper interact give her pieces life and the imperfections of the brush strokes gives them character. Meet Claudia. She’s passionate. She’s creative. She’s an artist. And she’s damn good at it.
Alright, give us the lowdown on Claudia. Where are you located, how did you end up here, what’s your blood type and what is your mother’s maiden name?
Hahaha! This was funny. Ok, so my name is Claudia Liebenberg. I’m a South African lady, born and raised. As the US is split up into 50 States, SA is spilt into 9 provinces. I was born in a tiny town in the Free State, and now find my home in the Western Cape. I moved here when I got into Stellenbosch University to study a Science degree. I really had no clue how things were going to pan out when I started, even the word “campus” was abstract till about the end of my first year…haha, such a small town girl.
Art as a career didn’t get it’s kick from a tertiary education. Many folks are surprised about that fact when I answer that. Truth is, I have never been in an art class ever. I have loved expressing myself with captured shapes and forms since I saw my mom scribble her signature on cheques and I so badly wanted to move the pen and for it to make sense.
I ruined too many of their books by literally drawing “words” on the pages. My Grade 1 teacher picked up on my artiness (don’t think that’s a word) and encouraged me to keep at it. Só funny to look back and remember how annoyed I got when kids copied my drawings and didn't draw their own, haha! I painted as a downtime hobby, and only the people close to me knew I wasn’t too useless with a pencil and paint. I kept it to myself although I always found myself working it into the most mundane of tasks. Fast forward a couple of years where I sat down one middle of October (2014) & just went for it. I really didn't have another option at the time, so there was a very strong “nothing to lose” situation going on there. March 2015 I hosted my first expo in the historic town of Stellenbosch, after which I was invited to a series of local expo’s around the Cape Town area, as well as one in Durban (Kwazulu-Natal).
The reception of the work has been nothing short of mind-blowing and am continuously humbled at the journey. At the core it’s very simple: God-given talent, hard work and stay true to who you are. The rest follows and my goodness have I had the privilege to work with and meet some incredible brands and people so far!
2016 is a very different year, even in atmosphere. So looking forward to what this year holds!
Tell us a little known fact about yourself that people are surprised to hear once you’ve told them.
Well, apart from motorcycles, I love many other quality made things, i.e. well made clothes. Classic style. Same goes for my taste in music, Rock and Blues.
Then, I have a very deep love for leather. I worked at a local design studio as an apprentice leather craftsman making their hunting accessories (this is where people need a moment), very simply because I love leather, wanted to continue learning this old world craft.
Here’s one very few know about me unless you knew me back then; I did horse riding as a sport and captained the South African Saddle Seat Equestrian World Cup team, many moons ago. I loved the elegance and grit combined in one. The discipline & the fun. Full three-piece suits are mandatory, and after 6pm tuxedo’s and top hats are compulsory…Glory Days, as Bruce Springsteen sings :)
Do you have a lifelong dream or goal? Maybe fame and glory are what you seek or maybe it’s quiet cabin in the woods?
Yes, a few. I’d love to see the world, travel with my art and attend various expo’s internationally. I’d love to go see various other crafts, old motorcycle and car museums, galleries etc to expose my thinking and approach to different ones.
I cant wait to have an old Airhead.
I wouldn't necessarily say fame and glory are a goal. I think it may be a part of the journey, but are to be used as a tool in a relevant way. James Hetfield from Metallica said it well, “if you want to keep what you have, you gotta give it away”, so use what you have and work towards giving back. I’d love to help others grow in their skill and ability some day, have a facility that can be a safe space to grow others in various areas.
Also, that cabin in the woods doesn't sound too bad :)
What are you doing when you’re not making art?
Spending quality time with quality humans, exploring the never ending Cape Town area, the beach and resting up to make art again.
Who are the people and things that inspire you? Are there artists and creative’s who you looked to growing up or that you look to now?
Wow. So many.
For starters, the open road. I absolutely love driving, or being on the road with some of those quality people I mentioned. Music keeps me going, especially when the midnight oil needs to be burned. I draw most of my inspiration from where I come from (i.e. heritage), my current environment and the future challenges I’d like to conquer. My parents are a huge influence in my work, as is any honest, hard working craftsmen. To single out that word, “honesty”, that I think will always play a role. Honest food, honest music, honest people. Nothing is more encouraging than spending time with genuine people and finding out what makes them tick.
Along the lines of honesty, I never had an artist whom I looked up to. It was a dream career, one for another life if I could start over. I do now have a few solid individuals who’ve been in the creative industry longer than I’ve had a will, and many of them I call friends, whom I can ask all sorts of difficult questions & get new ideas from just by spending time over a cup of coffee. Meeting them and others in related industries have really been one of the highlights of this journey so far. Many of them such stylish women who wear many hats (from motherhood to businesswoman) and do so with such grace and unique quirk.
I love photography too, and certain colour pallets have me stop dead in my tracks when my eye registers a good shot. I really enjoy Christian Watson’s “1924us”, especially his literary output. The right combination of words can be so on point to start a concept. Another artist is a local lady Lorraine Loots. Stunningly detailed work.
Minimalist furniture, WWII heritage, a good Whiskey, guitar riffs from some of the legends, my worn Bible and die hard devotion to a Moleskine journal. My goodness, too many. I’ll stop now.
A lot of your work that we’ve been seeing recently has been watercolor. Has that always been your weapon of choice? And are there other mediums you’re looking to try?
Yes. I’ve always loved watercolour’s feminine and playful way. It’s very unpredictable and the simple joy I get from watching it “park” within the boundaries I set out in an evolving way till it comes to a stand still is so rewarding. I never took it very seriously, and always thought others thought it a kiddi-art medium. But it’s the one I understood, it’s like we speak the same language when I try get a feeling across. When I used it in the making of my portfolio as an independent artist, I used it because I “got” it, we’ve kept each other company for so many years. Some of the greatest reviews I’ve heard of my Moto Art work, is “elegant and raw, gritty and graceful” spot on, and those words truly bless me as I completely identify with that. What I didn't realise until someone pointed it out, was the very intense contrast the work offered; the vague and delicately feminine medium used to portray the very hard and masculine lines of machines. This brought me so much delight to read and discover that description to my work. I really just painted, and still do, what I love.
I want to sharpen my digital skills the moment I have time, and definitely continue growing in my love for photography as well.
How would you say your work has evolved over the years?
Well, the work has always followed my interests & environment. Botanical scenes were the very start and still love doing those. All of the work has become a lot more focussed as you become more comfortable in your own skin, yet also not afraid to take on subjects that are just outside your reference and grow towards that too.
Where do you see your work going?
Collector’s pieces. I value exclusivity and quality, the handmade touch of old world craft and skill. Collaboration with other artists/ designers/ makers on relevant products/projects.
Is there anything you have up your sleeve that has you really excited, be it a piece of art or other type of project?
I have a few collaborations and potential international expo’s coming up. Really excited to see how those pan out. I’d love to start working on some products, like some well designed shirts for starters. But that needs a bit of planning, and won’t rush into that just yet. I have wanted to build out specific ranges for some time, and really hoping I can get to them this year. Not going to slip too much detail on that yet, let me surprise ya’ll when the time comes.
Thank you Chhun & East Fork Supply Co for having me!
A heart felt thanks goes out to Claudia for participating in our interview series all the way from South Africa!
In an overwhelming world of social media, visual media and digital noise, her work stands out. She continues to hone her craft and work on new projects. Her work has been featured both online and print through various publications including Iron & Air, Ninety Nine Co. and Silodrome to name a few. Follow her on her website or through social and contact her to commission a piece, although you may have to get in line.