Maverick Life


Alice Toich and the healing power of art

Illustrative image by Leila Dougan and Malibongwe Tyilo for Maverick Life (sources: Unsplash / Pxhere / pngwave / pinclipart / pngguru / pngwave / EPA/Kim Ludbrook / Alice Toich)

Most events and places where design, art, and culture happen are inaccessible during the lockdown. In this series, we talk to artists, creatives, designers and musicians about their work and what inspires them during these surreal times.

Painter Alice Toich, now 28, was born and raised in Pretoria; her interest in painting began at a young age, leading her to seek tutorship under local painters in Pretoria and later in East London, Eastern Cape. She is currently based in Cape Town, where she also attended the University of Cape Town Michaelis School of Fine Art.

Image courtesy of Alice Toich
Image courtesy of Alice Toich
Image courtesy of Alice Toich
Image courtesy of Alice Toich
Image courtesy of Alice Toich

“I am in lockdown with my husband who is able to work remotely, so we have maintained a routine of working quite well,” says Toich.

She is also a baking enthusiast, and in 2015, was a contestant on the first season of the BBC’s The Great South African Bake Off, after which she launched BAEK, a baking ’zine and website. In 2017, she headed to Italy to continue her art studies, and returned to Cape Town in 2019.

Image courtesy of Alice Toich

Here, she shares her 2019 painting, Carine, which she painted while at the Florence Academy of Art in Italy.

‘Portrait of Carine’ by Alice Toich

“While training at the academy, we spent hundreds of hours indoors, together with a few studio mates, the instructors, and our models. Everything is painted and drawn from life – so we end up spending a lot of time with our models.

“Carine sat for three weeks for me and my studio mate to complete our portraits of her. This process allowed us to get to know our models and their auras as people far deeper than if we were to paint from photographs.”

The painting is of particular significance to Toich for a number of reasons. Not only was it the final portrait she presented at the end of a three-year period at the academy, it was also “one of the first times” that Toich felt that she had successfully applied the structured approach to painting that she had been learning.

“When we learn something new, it involves a lot of false starts, a lot of reverting back to old habits, and a lot of mistakes. This painting was the first time I was able to apply a lot of concepts I was learning about light, form, anatomy and handling of paint, as well as capturing a likeness in a portrait.

“I also completed the painting of Carine in the time frame allocated, which was a first. It was massively fulfilling to go through this process in a calm and diligent way without letting my emotional self and my harsh judgements get in the way. As [Antoine de Saint Exupéry,] the author of The Little Prince states: ‘It is the time you have wasted for the rose that makes the rose so important.’ This final portrait at the academy was my ‘rose’.”

In addition to spending time creating new work during the lockdown, Toich has also launched a “21 Days of Art Challenge” on Instagram with the hashtag #21DaysOfArtSA.

“From day one of the lockdown, I have been posting daily challenges for people to respond to; in ink, paint, pencil, clay and even bread dough. I’ve asked other creatives in my community to host challenges on certain days, so I am using the platform to expand an awareness of makers and artists.

“As a full-time artist I feel very grateful to have a strong connection with my ability to set myself artistic goals and complete them but I acknowledge most people don’t have the time, energy or money to do this. So I thought, ‘Now, everyone has the time and energy!’ As for art materials? A humble HB pencil can take you to extraordinary places if you choose to go.”

Her Instagram page reveals a series of the daily challenges: on day three, participants were challenged to paint, draw or sculpt “Something in your kitchen”, day seven belonged to “Pattern play”, and more recently, she asked participants to draw, sculpt, or paint “Someone who has changed your life”.

“I have been running the challenges for eight days now and it has been a massive success. I think this is in part due to the fact that it is aimed not so much at artists, but everyday people who haven’t found time to draw or paint in adult life.

“A good friend – and painter – of mine who lives in Italy once told me: ‘Economic depressions and wars throughout time have never been great times for artists, but they have always been great times for art.’ Some incredible things have come out of tough times historically.

“So, if you can afford to take an online art class, take it. If in the ensuing months you can afford to buy art, buy it. Commission designers you know, organise trade… whatever you can. And if none of this is available to you, I would encourage you to make art yourself in this time. It is an enormously healing act and if you can welcome more art into your life by virtue of learning how to do it, you may come to respect and be more willing to empower those that do it later on.

“A paradigm shift is happening and if we go deeply into the learning of what it means to be alive in this trying time, then I think we will discover making art as a way to process being alive. Remember to keep your mind positive and your body healthy. A rising tide lifts all boats.” DM/ ML

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