Artist lived life to the fullest

Simon’s Town artist Ryno Swart.

Ryno Swart, an internationally acclaimed artist and founder of the Ryno Swart Art Gallery in Simon’s Town, died last month at the age of 76.

Swart is described by his wife, Anne, as a formidable man who loved life and lived his to the fullest.

He died on Saturday August 14 from Covid-related complications.

Ms Swart says her husband would have been deeply moved by the outpouring of love from all of those whose lives he touched.

He taught extensively in the False Bay area, often using spaces at the community centre in Kalk Bay, the Simon’s Town library, and the girl guide halls.

He continued to teach and run painting demonstrations throughout lockdown through various online platforms.

Ms Swart says he formed lifelong friendships with many of his students in his classes and many of them, she says, still cite him as a reason for their continued love of painting.

He founded the Artists’ Co-operative in Observatory in 1989 and moved to Simon’s Town with his family in 1995.

Three years’ later, in 1998, he founded the Simon’s Town Art Group (STAG) along with Mike Munnik and Paul Andrew.

He was instrumental in the transformation of the historic Albertyn’s Stables in Simon’s Town into an exhibition space, which was later further developed into the Bronze Age Foundry by sculptor Dylan Lewis, who was one of Swart’s students at the Ruth Prowse School of Art.

In 2009, he opened The Ryno Swart Art Gallery in Simon’s Town, where he exhibited his own work.

“It was one of his most passionate endeavours,” Ms Swart says.

He graduated with a BA in Fine Art at the University of Stellenbosch, after which he spent most of the 1970s working as a teacher, visualiser, scriptwriter, and film storyboarder in Johannesburg. In the late 1970s, he moved to Paris where he was inspired to commit to a career as a fine artist. There he attended courses at Beaux-Arts while discovering his love for the beauty of European architecture and daily life.

After returning to South Africa, he held his first solo exhibition at the Everard Read Gallery in 1980, and by the end of the 1980s, Swart was exhibiting across Europe.

He often led groups of South African artists on workshops to locations such as Paris, Venice, and the Greek Islands.

Ms Swart says he worked strictly from life and imagination and never worked from photographs. He had a passion for beauty in all forms. He drew inspiration from the work and teachings of old masters such as Rembrandt and Turner. As a result of the lockdown restrictions, Swart found himself spending more time painting outdoors or from imagination.

“He particularly enjoyed painting the horses and riders at the Noordhoek Common,” Ms Swart says.

He kept up with the international art community and hosted a weekly informal online meeting with local and international artists where he would speak on art or demonstrate his various techniques and loved to walk his border collie, Newton, to the beach every day.

His son, Jean, says: “He was the most stubborn and difficult person you will ever meet but also the kindest, and with the biggest and bravest heart. He was utterly self-assured in what he believed in, and he taught my mom and me so much about life and how to live it to its fullest.

“He lived 76 years of constant artistic adventure – from teaching art in Johannesburg, where he met my mom, and living in Paris to travelling the world to paint. We just wish that we could have lived out the rest of our plans together instead of being separated by this cruel twist of fate. He was still in his absolute prime as an artist, a father, and a husband. We are going to miss him more than words can describe.”

Ms Swart says her husband’s journey as an artist and mentor was not an easy one, but he never lost his integrity or his deep principles.

“I am so incredibly proud of him and humbled to have shared his life so intimately for so long, to have been with him from the beginning of his artistic career. We have been together for 42 years – a weaving of love and light, shadows and storms, an infinite layering of brushstrokes.”

Swart is survived by his wife, Anne, his son, Jean, and his sister, Heléne. The family will have a private memorial for him in October.

Artist Ryno Swart outside his gallery in Simon’s Town.