Bloemhofversameling – Marlene Steyn

A recent publication, Kuns – die Bloemhofversameling, published for the school by Tip Africa Publishing, shone a light on this remarkable collection, spanning 81 years. Every fortnight, we will take a closer look at one of the artists featured in the publication. First in line is Marlene Steyn, who talks about recurrent themes in her work.

“I was the dreamer in the family,” Marlene Steyn concedes, “always sketching and doodling, even in class. All my work centres around the same questions and themes. I am interested in psycho-analysis and the process we follow to create a sense of self in the contemporary world, particularly as women.”

A quick look at 30-year-old Marlene Steyn’s work online leaves the viewer paging through colourful, dreamlike landscapes filled with both beautiful and eerie images that seem to effortlessly flow from her brush onto the canvas.

At such a young age, this former Bloemhof pupil and art student has exhibited in major centres around the world and at Cape Town’s prestigious Zeitz MOCAA and Norval Foundation. She has also been lauded as one of 100 influential ceramic and clay artists in vogue today, as per Phaidon’s Vitamin C publication.

The work that this celebrated former pupil of Bloemhof donated to the Bloemhofversameling is on view in the school’s foyer – it is composed of a neat triangular installation that she personally oversaw for her mixed media painting A Head of Herselves, complemented by two small clay sculptures called Koeksisters Sisters.

Marlene Steyn is known to produce immersive, installation-based experiences, cultivating an expectation for her ever-increasing fantastic, constructed worlds. Her distinctive iconography is shaped by disturbing established themes in psychoanalytic theory and certain historical narratives of art, as well as by popular signifiers, borrowed from contemporary culture.

Marlene Steyn_A head of herselves
The ease with which these images are woven together confirms her technical skill, colour sense and eye for composition.

Adept at choosing telling details, Steyn reviews familiar objects to create uncanny motifs through repetition and unpredictable combinations. Using anchor points such as the androgynous figure, the fried egg, and braided ropes of hair, she reinforces the symbolic visual language that has become the cornerstone of her practice.

The charm of her work lies in the playful themes and upbeat colours that evoke a fantastical world where objects and people merge, often intertwined with long strands of blonde hair, or punctuated with – of all things – a suspended eyeball or fried egg – frequently seen in her work yet somehow never out of place. 

Her interest in the subconscious and the inspiration it offers is evident in the revealing titles of her solo exhibitions: Shouty Insides; Your Skin is Not the Best Hiding Place; Unbuttoning my Belly, Womandla and I Knot: Knot I, to mention a few.

Read more about Marlene Steyn and other South African artists in the 2020 art publication Kuns – Die Bloemhofversameling, published by Tip Africa Publishing. You can order your copy directly from the school at R300 (+ R99 for counter-to-counter delivery). Contact Maryna de Waal on 0769728836 or send an email to bloemhofbond@bloemhofschool.co.za