I recently saw an email from a newly arrived expat who asked us to recommend sources of affordable art for the blank walls of her apartment. Now I know the answer: Amanda Brooks.
This highly successful artist has been described as Australian, but to my delight – not that I don’t love Aussies! – I found a fellow South African who grew up in the same area as I did, and spent her childhood weekends and holidays at the same obscure KwaZulu-Natal South Coast beach as I did with my family.
We met up at the Tanglin Park home gallery of her friend and agent, Sally Walters: this time, a dinkum Aussie.
How did you become Australian?
Fifteen years ago, I moved with my mother to Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast; coming from the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, we had to be near the beach. Noosa is a beautiful place and a wonderful environment for an artist. My Durban boyfriend and now husband, Jason, followed us a couple of months later.
And an artist?
I took art lessons from Ria van Rooyen as a teenager, and studied graphic design after leaving school; but to work in that industry in Australia I would have had to be in a big city. So I did a floristry course in Brisbane and started working in a Noosa Heads home-ware and florist store, Alfresco on Hastings.
I started painting seascapes and floral watercolours, large canvases depicting outsized blooms. I started off anonymous, but one day a customer insisted on knowing who was doing the paintings, because she wanted the artist to teach her to paint. As it happens, that woman was my now-agent Sally Walters’ mother-in-law. For two years I taught art – eventually to a group of 45! – while painting in-between.
My art was selling so quickly that I stopped teaching and devoted my time to painting. For the next 11 years, I painted full-time for a gallery called Discovery, also in Hastings Street. Sometimes, large paintings would sell before the paint was even properly dry, minutes after delivering them into the shop. Mainly tourists bought them, as the pieces were easily shipped anywhere in the world.
I was also supplying seven other galleries in Australia, and one in Sweden; I still work with them. Bulk orders came in, too, including one for an 80-room Sydney hotel. I was virtually painting in my sleep – that was, until the twins were born.
The twins? Tell us more.
For a couple who didn’t necessarily plan on having a family, we did quite well! Daughter Coco is five years old, and the twins, Jasper and Indigo, have just turned three.
Though Jason and I have been married for ten years, his work as an oil and gas engineer has seen him working on a rotation basis – six weeks on, six off. In some ways, I had to manage as a single parent. These first six months in Singapore are the first time we have really lived together as a family, and it’s wonderful.
Where and how do you paint, and how do you keep your work so affordable?
I’ve converted a section of our big verandah into my studio. That’s always been the first thing we look at in a home – is there a place for me to paint?
Having developed my own technique over many years, I approach each piece with confidence, and feel that I do some of my best work when I paint fairly quickly. There’s a danger that you can overwork a piece of art and end up spoiling it.
Selling through a website helps keep prices down. As soon as your art goes into a gallery, it’s no longer as affordable.
On the website I see everything from contemporary abstracts in varied palettes, Asia-inspired works and beach scenes, to sensuous nudes and delightfully personalised art pieces for children. What makes you so versatile?
I see myself as basically classic in style, but I love the challenge of doing something different. I’ve just been given a brief for a house in New South Wales that’s 140 years old; they want only traditional still-lives. That’s going to be fun!
I think that being so versatile makes me very marketable – and that’s important for someone like me who is earning a living as a full-time, professional artist.
My heart goes into every piece. If you commission me, I welcome as much input as you will give me: it’s a great pleasure to be able to give customers exactly what they want, what will work in their home. I also like knowing that people can afford something beautiful; that they don’t have to go without it because it’s beyond their financial reach.