South African artist Victoria Verbaan is a master of contrasts—her seductive women, exotic plants and playful animals are as delicate as petals, while artfully emitting a sense of power and strength. We sat down with Victoria over a drink and had a little chat about primates, Bunny Chow and the woman she aspires to be.
What’s your favourite drink at Happy Hour?
A spin on a Kir Royal. My happiest hours are when I’m on holiday with family and friends, and this drink is a celebratory one for me.
You are based in Durban. How would you describe life in South Africa to someone who has never lived there before?
Balmy Durban is very diverse, with a fascinating mix of Indian, English and Zulu culture making it feel like a wild riot. I grew up in Kloof where everything is lush, and palm trees line the streets and driveways. I love it for its tropical flavour. If you ever visit Durban, be sure to try one of Durban's famous hollowed out half loaves stuffed with curry known as a 'Bunny Chow' (Goundens is a cash only, takeaway restaurant where the food is a delish bomb).
South Africa is guaranteed to keep anyone on their toes. It's abundant and unique; the white sandy beaches of Cape Town; the surf, wildlife and vast winelands; the Karoo and innumerable mountain passes. It’s worth checking out the Toyi-Toyi, because nobody dances quite like an oppressed or celebrating African.
Looking at your design ‘I Should Have Been a Cowboy’ can we assume that you wanted to be a cowboy/girl growing up?
I have been riding horses since the age of 4—my first pony was a little piebald called Fliker. I would have these grandiose dreams about my life and what I would become one day when I rode. I’m a resolute risk taker and I like to ride, so I think the combination makes me think that I should have been a cowboy.
What did your path to becoming an artist look like?
I cannot remember my life before I painted or drew. In my year book at school I wrote that I would like to become a commercial artist. I practise illustrating and painting a lot. For years I did a daily illustration, and when I have a gap in my day to paint, I get really excited.
The path is about realising your goal and hustling until you achieve it. It’s about working hard and starting somewhere, anywhere. My first job after graduating was in publishing. After that, I worked in advertising for a fashion retailer, but I always illustrated on the side for various magazines and publishers. It eventually became what I do. And from there things have just grown.
Monkeys are a frequent subject in your work. Where does your fascination for primates come from?
Monkeys are all over Natal—they pinch my bananas off the breakfast table and hang from the trees teasing my dachshunds. They’re naughty, but I love them. Watching them is like watching little school boys tossing about and teasing each other. Last year was the year of the Monkey, which is why I focused on them for my exhibitions ‘Safari Sweet Suite’ and ‘Monkeys that Ride’.
The women you paint are strong, desirable and have that ‘certain something’ about them. Who are they?
My women are aspirational and they live inside my head. They are self assured and ambitious. They are free-spirited queens. I wouldn’t mess with them. They’re a constant reminder to be brave, kind and fearless.
In the past, you have cited Roald Dahl as a source of inspiration. What’s the biggest lesson you learned from him?
Yes, his books were, and still are, a constant source of inspiration for me—wicked, wild, fun and peculiar. He taught me to take risks and to find wit and delight in every situation, no matter how hard. He taught me that life is filled with funny turns and that there’s a twist to every tale.
What are the three things in life you couldn’t do without?
A sketch pad and black drawing ink, my dachshunds and coffee…oh and pretty ballerina shoes. And the hustle and bustle of my daughter Phoebe. And I’d probably also have to say tulips. I could go on and on...
Wild animals or sassy women?