Meet Andre Van Zijl

Andre Van Zijl is a good friend of the Cobb Institute. He is our Visual Artist Laureate, and is featured in our virtual art gallery. We were pleased to have a conversation with Andre concerning his creative process and his philosophy of art.

Born in Zimbabwe and an award-winning artist of international merit, Andre van Zijl’s work has historically been an artistic commentary on socio-political realms and global culture from a holistic spiritual standpoint. In his ancestral and adopted homeland of South Africa he was a victim himself of the political secret police, which has deeply motivated him to give voice to those without a voice. Art to him “is a creative sword for peace.” His work from this era challenged the institutionalized inequities between the privileged wealthy few and the exploited dis-empowered masses, structured as a system of government called apartheid, or, as he prefers to call it, “apart-hate.”

This included other forms of oppressive political power that deny challenging art, cross cultural communication, and democratic spiritual growth. Andre’s art was instrumental as a historical voice of progress and change in this tumultuous period, and is represented in many important international museums, public and private collections, and numerous publications worldwide. Most recently he was published in the 4 volume series, “100 Years of South African Art.“ by Wits University, for the South African National Gallery, 2012.

When starting a new project, how do you decide what to draw or paint? 

I have always worked within a narrative tradition. In the past, In South Africa, where I built my art career, I created work around a general theme of anti-apartheid (anti-apart-hate) socio-political commentary.

Recently, I have begun a new body of work by navigating more of an inchoate feeling, not so much deciding on a concrete idea, concept, or image. Mostly it's been in the context of creating a new body of work, and in this case, it's inspired by what erupted from within when confronting my fierce resistance to even the idea of making art and not having done it for a while now. The emerging theme is exploring the idea of interbeing, our inextricable belonging to more than just ourselves.

For some time before this, I've been immersed in completing a book's manuscript for publication. When I write creatively, I cannot make art, and vice versa, except now, that block has been removed, and I am finding fluency and interchangeability between them.

Can you describe your process?

I approach a blank surface, canvas, watercolor paper, or document with Beginners Mind. I don't want to get in the way of what is waiting to be birthed through me. I am not an artist making art, or an author writing a book, I am a deep sea diver coming up for air. It is a process more of allowing than of making. As I write or draw, I follow the words and images as they tumble like puppies onto the page without pause or deliberation. In these new drawings, I went kamikaze style onto the paper with ink following the lines as they appeared with their own volition and intent. To be free in creating these images or words, the less I know about where they're going or what they want to express through me, the freer I feel in letting the process be more intuitive than anything else. So, creating blind excites me to see what will emerge into the light. It allows the formless to coalesce into form or makes the invisible visible.

rain mama 2 (2)

Is there a philosophy or theology involved in your art, and if so, can you explain how it manifests? 

My philosophy is to trust the sacred source of life itself. Suppose everything is instinct with the divinity It is birthed from. In that case, equally, everything is made of consciousness, always congealing into the riot of forms and ever-changing processes from which life is made up. If every cell of my body is imbued with the full divinity of the Animate Everything, to borrow Sophie Strand's phrase, then there's no need to consult any other authority than my undivided connection to the infinity within. In my daily walks, I read nature's gospels, wantonly spilling out their messages of joy, abundance, and irrepressible yearning to reach for the light; how can I not be in constant wonder and awe at this miracle of gifts?

When did you discover your talent for art?

When I was cut out of my mother's womb to save her life at six and a half months old, I held a pencil in my left hand. Art is a wound of excruciating sensitivity you get at birth, the only cure for which is creating art, beauty, and joy as a life. One of my big lessons came when I walked up to the dias to receive first prize in a National children's art competition at twelve. I was small for my age, so as I walked towards the director of the National Art Gallery, he suddenly said in a loud voice, Oh, No! We cannot give this prize to you because it's impossible that you did such mature work without adult help!

Can you share some thoughts on creativity?

We create or die. Each of us is an artist creating the texture of the world we each know through the thoughts, feelings, and acts we choose. Each embodied thought or act is a gesture of hope etched upon the clay of our individual and collective being. We are co-creating a mutual arising. Life doesn't allow us to be passive. For life to prosper, it requires us to co-create our reality with it as an active partner.

What else would you like us to know? 

I am contributing to creating a visual language that goes beyond the usual pro/con mindset. Dualistic thinking, the either/or mindset, drowns us in its own lack of fulfillable promise. I am sharing my images of interbeing, a state of coherence beyond the relativity of belonging to any single group or particular condition but which claims belonging to the whole of life in all its infinite expressions and conditions. We are not simply personal identities with specific narratives and qualities, but each of us represents an opportunity for the universe to express itself through us as us. We each straddle the mid-point between the twin infinities of the objective universe and the interiority of the true beingness of the All.

We are called to live life as expanded universal awareness beyond the self-referential self-protective occlusions of a merely personal reference point. In other words, to be possessed of the Christ Mind.

balancing man
fairy nose

About the Author


  • Andre van Zijl

    Zimbabwean born, Andre van Zijl is an award-winning artist with work in over 30 museums worldwide, including the South African National Gallery. He is a spiritually inspired award-winning poet, published author, and non-dual philosophy teacher. He is also the founder and director of Van Zijl Art and Design Studios, and a co-founder and co-director of All Paths Divinity School.