Miniature art: A small ode to the city

Things of Beauty Lorraine Loots miniature paintings

At the height of their popularity in the 18th century, miniature paintings were commissioned by royalty, aristocrats and the affluent middle class to mark significant milestones in their lives. 

The memory of a soldier who had gone to war, the birth of an heir, the death of a patriarch, or the marriage of young lovers was recorded with these tiny, painstakingly detailed works of art that were not much bigger than a thumbnail. 

Cape Town artist Lorraine Loots is reinventing the forgotten art of miniature paintings with her project 365 Paintings for Ants. The idea came to her when she had to do a final pitch for a course she was doing at the UCT Graduate School of Business called "Business Acumen for Artists". She had decided not to be a full-time artist after all and her pitch was meant to be a side project to avoid creative stagnation. 

Every day in 2013, Loots sat down to create a different painting that ranged between 8mm and 30mm in height. She built a solid following from the beginning of the project and, as interest in it grew, people started booking dates to commemorate special events in their lives. 

But the decision to give the public a say in Loots's creative process was met with mixed opinions from people who said that artists should be independent of outside interference.  

"For me, it enriches the process," says Loots. "It gives it more depth and meaning and it adds more value to the piece because it actually means something real to someone." 

Loots first started doing miniature paintings when a jeweller friend asked her to paint something small enough to fit into a pendant. 

"I've always loved detail and small things so I jumped at the chance," she says. 

This supposed side project has turned into something that keeps Loots busy full-time. At the end of 2013, she initiated a second phase of the project called 365 Postcards for Ants, after Cape Town was named World Design Capital of 2014. Each piece Loots paints this year will fit in with a Cape Town theme and, in addition to the framed paintings, there will be a limited range of five postcards available for sale. 

"I thought it would be really nice to do an ode to the city and to give people another insight into it through miniatures," says Loots. 

She will part with all of the paintings she created last year after they are exhibited in Cape Town for a week. She says it has always been hard for her to part with her art because she attaches a lot of love and sentiment to it, although with 365 Paintings for Ants, it somehow feels different. 

"For some reason, it feels right that the whole thing should be split up into tiny pieces that mean something to people," says Loots. "That's why it's important for me to have the exhibition – so that we can all see them in one place."

The 365 Paintings for Ants exhibition will be held at 6 Spin Street, Cape Town, from January 31 to February 6

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