Wessel Marais was born in 1935 in the small town of Magaliesburg. Before his school-going age, Wessel’s father was a local postmaster of the type now long gone in most societies – part local dignitary, confidant and mainstay of small town activity. Wessel’s father was also a minor poet and a great influence who believed that quite apart from work, a man’s inner presence must express itself in some creative form.
Childhood days were spent at various small towns, living on large plots which always had railway lines and cosmos flowers, recalls Wessel. An older friend called Simon introduced Wessel to drawing, using sticks and sand. Mostly Wessel drew trains travelling at great speed – upside down!
On leaving school, Wessel’s main ambition was to be a pilot but he became a postmaster, just like his father. He quickly became very bored with the humdrum 9–5 job and took classes in the evening in commercial art. This, says Wessel, gave life a whole new meaning and soon little drawings were being executed in the Post Office and inevitably getting mixed up with “official documents”. Before jibes became formal notes of censure, Wessel left the Post Office and worked in a shop.
He took lessons after hours from Zakkie Eloff, the famous South African wildlife and landscape artist. Soon Wessel began to draw inspiration from Erich Meyer’s landscapes and the whole range of the masters of French impressionism. His work improved and found ready buyers within and out of South Africa but to Wessel it was still “muddle some”.
It was the Italian painter, Guiseppe Cataruzzo, who sent for Wessels and in his Pretoria Gallery began to hone his skills. Buoyed by this success, Wessel took the then risky step to paint full time. Supported by his wife Christine, successful exhibitions followed in all the major centres within South Africa.
His studies, landscapes, city scenes, flower studies, still lives, Cape Coons pulsating with boisterousness and the joy of living, and children playing in gay abandon, have become sought-after collectors’ items throughout South Africa.
Wessel believes that a skilled artist must be able to interpret any subject matter successfully on canvas. His personal preferences are to portray everyday scenes with an innate playful, unfettedness and poetic intuition. His ability to portray the captivating play of light and shadow in vibrant colours is a gift, which is highly appreciated by his many admirers.
“When I’m at work,” says Wessel, “I am totally absorbed with the intangible elements of the subject matter I try to portray. It is not so much the subject that matters, but the mystic energy floating from it that I try to capture in my oils. Sometimes I think I come close to succeeding in the capture of the indefinable element some people describe as art. I am however still learning, drawing most of my inspiration while flying my plane, a glider which has made it possible to realise my ambition of becoming a pilot”.
Wessel continues to improve in style and execution – the great use of translucent colour and light have given many of his works a “Turneresque” quality, which is most captivating. As with sound investment theory, the sooner one starts collecting Wessel’s work, the more gratifying will be your investment in taste and value. Wessel’s work has been appreciating close to 20% per annum during the mid to late 1990’s.
Wessel Marais’ work has been extensively collected by private individuals and corporations alike, both within and without South Africa. Although much of Wessel’s subject matter is South African, his style and manner of painting has a worldwide appeal.
After a long and fruitful life Wessel Marais sadly passed away in April 2009.