This Women’s Month we’re celebrating women who have made a success out of pursuing their passions. They’ve taken Ctrl of their lives and forged their own paths. First in our series of three is Maritha van Amerom Coetzee.
Artist, mother, psychologist, jewellery maker, and dog lover. It’s not easy to sum up Maritha in one word… not even in a few words. We decided to catch up with this versatile creative human who took the bold step of closing down her psychology practice a few years ago to live out her dream of creating art full time.
We found her cupping a coffee mug next to the fireplace in her sunlit Somerset West Studio. Half painted canvases, brushes, ink, paint and tiny bottles with secret ingredients eagerly awaiting her transforming touch.
Maritha especially loves working with ink because “it’s uncontrollable once it gets on paper,” she explains. “It requires a certain fearlessness. You can’t control it and you have to work with what you’ve got. It’s like life. It just happens. But you can create something beautiful from it.”
“Each of us has our own unique fingerprint, and if you can find your mark, that’s what makes you unique. So, try to find your own mark and don’t be afraid to use it. Use it boldly, because that’s what makes you you, and makes you special.”
What were the biggest challenges you’ve had to face when starting out; in general, and as a woman specifically?
Entering the art market on your own is extremely daunting. I had to leave behind a successful practice and make a mind shift towards building something new. In my case, I did not have a mentor who could ‘open doors’ for me. It was a steep learning curve with many highs and lows and ups and downs, but tenacity, ‘grit’ and passion made a way in the end.
As a woman, I think worldwide there has been a positive shift regarding the role women play in societies and the impact they can make. Juggling the responsibilities of family, house, home, art and self is, at best, a challenge. At the same time, it is also enriching, providing me with real-life experiences that I continuously draw from in my work.
What advice would you give to young women out there?
Dream big, stay grounded. Invest in true friendships. Take time to see beauty, to laugh and to be kind to each other. Work hard. Live with passion. Be honest to yourself. Find your voice and never be afraid to use it.
What would you tell your younger self if you could?
It sounds like a cliché… but really, ‘carpe diem’. All you have is now. You have today, don’t miss it. Use every opportunity, build experiences and memories that make you smile (now and when you are 80). And… use your voice!
How do you use what you do to make a difference in people’s lives?
I used to give art classes at a school for special needs kids. Art can be a very therapeutic way to just be who you are, with the freedom to express and to explore and discover. I also draw inspiration from life and often paint the story of someone’s life to give the viewer a glimpse into another world. For example autism. I deal with the reality of having an ASD child. These struggles are real. I ‘paint it out on canvas’, almost like a visual diary. Other people can ‘read’/ see these images and they can start to ask questions and get information about a condition that has a direct impact on millions of people around the world.
Who’re your favourite South African female artists?
One of my favourite female artists was (still is) Judith Mason (1938-2016). Her sensitive approach towards her work is outstanding. I also enjoy the work of Pauline Gutter. It is bravely honest and technically brilliant.
Which other South African women do you admire?
I like Karen Zoid’s front footedness. I also think she draws the best from people by the way she connects them and collaborates with them. Another favourite is Thuli Madonsela. The role she plays in our country is inspiring and her humility is notable.