Art school brings to mind a bunch of trustafarians and middle-aged women fiddling around while a nude model tries not to fidget in the centre of the room. For Nicholas Esterhuizen, who threw himself into the deep end at a celebrated (yet pretty hardcore) Russian classical art school, just being able to see the model was a priority.
That school, the St. Petersburg Academy of Art, is a huge imperial institution with its own church and stables for painting horses. And while it’s massive, it’s also cut-throat competitive and difficult to get into, especially for a foreigner who doesn’t speak
Russian. Getting an easel into class was also pretty hard – there’d always be a scrum as students jockeyed for positions. “One guy broke another’s nose for getting in his way. The teacher just shrugged his shoulders.”
It was a long way from home for a guy whose journey in art started with him tagging walls and trains with
graffiti along the Peninsula railway in Simon’s Town and Fish Hoek. But Esterhuizen swiftly grew bored with graffiti. “I found it limiting. I was more interested in creating images rather than lettered pieces, so I started
to move towards more figurative,
It seemed an odd choice, but
Esterhuizen believes that classically inspired art holds more for him then the modern design-heavy trends. But to study classical art, he needed Old World training. He won a scholarship to a celebrated Italian art school – the Florence Academy of Arts – where he spent two years, followed by a year-and-a-half stint in Russia before returning to graduate in Florence.
Now back in Cape Town, Esterhuizen and his remarkable Old Master-inspired portraits are already getting noticed. With a major show, “Faces of Cape Town”, at the AVA Gallery this month, perhaps South Africa will have a master of its own to celebrate in years to come.
#bestadvice / Learn to persevere “A lot of people don’t know what they want to do with life. I didn’t know I wanted to be a painter until later. Looking for direction is tough, but when you find it, the main thing is to continue with what you are doing. There were lots of times, especially in Russia, where I wanted to quit art. I hated it. But I moved through the difficult periods and stuck with that one thing. When things get difficult, that’s when you learn the most. In visual art, and in many other pursuits, you improve then you hit plateaus – a horrible kind of dip – but if you stick with it you will go up again. By sticking with it, you have a breakthrough and an epiphany that you learnt something.”