A full version of this article in Afrikaans originally appeared in a 2017 addition of Ambassadeur.
The more you get to know Hennie Niemann Jnr, the more you realise that he is not the usual type of tormented artist. This successful South African artist is unruffled and tranquil, preferring to talk more about his art than himself.
Hennie’s art career began under the mentorship of his father, artist Hennie Niemann Snr. With the help of family friends such as Gregoire Boonzaaier, his artistic skills were developed early in life. His inspiration for his unique style arose after two years of conscription after school, where he was placed in the Kruger National Park. Surrounded by bush and wildlife, his love for the great African outdoors was born. He began to do sketches while stationed at Kruger, and later on, his affinity for the rhythm and harmony of Africa would become his trademark.
This affinity led to many adventures across Africa, traveling on his own to the legendary Busanga and lesser-known Liuwa plains in the north-western part of Zambia and making his way through Mozambique, the mighty Zambezi River, Gorongosa National Park, Lake Malawi, and, years later, through Botswana with his wife Marelise.
Talking about his experiences, Hennie said, “I think of Africa as one of the few wild and unspoilt places in the world. There is something in its landscapes, and in the air that just can’t be found anywhere else. The continent has been a constant inspiration in my art career – from my first bistre sketches of animals to more expressive dancing and people oil paintings. Even though African themes don’t feature much in my work today, I’d say my art has an African feel.”
The rhythm and movement of African dancing is a constant fascination for Hennie. “As a form of wordless communication and storytelling, it is so deeply rooted in this continent. The dancer’s body becomes a universal language, which gives me more material than I could ever use”.
Hennie Niemann Jnr – An Instinctive Contemporary Artist
Hennie works instinctively, rather than academically. He wants to draw out emotions, not academic discussions. He has a great love for what he does, and there are few things as satisfying to him as a good, productive day in his studio. While passion drives his work, he is also pragmatic. Rather than working only when inspiration hits, he believes that inspiration happens once the painting begins.
At 47 years of age, Hennie Niemann Jnr is one of South Africa’s most successful young artists. Despite his success, balance is always his primary goal. “Of course, I’d love to be top of my game in my industry, but achieving real balance is so much more valuable. Too often, we look up to these successful icons, only to find out that their personal lives are a horrible failure.”
Instead, Hennie lives a balanced life in Onrus, Hermanus, with his wife Marelise and 8-month old baby boy Ben. This is where he gets to enjoy another great passion – the sea. When Hennie was asked how he’d like to be remembered, he said it best, “Hennie – much-loved husband and a good father. He could paint a bit, and always managed to scrounge a lobster or a Galjoen from the sea. Amen.”