The longer you are surrounded by the Spanish landscape, the more beautiful it becomes. The light and landscape changes constantly, and you notice a new wonder with each passing day. These elements start to subconsciously influence your work, making it possible to experiment anew during the creative process.


I arrived in Barcelona, in September of this year, and was met by Elton Faber (Investment Consultant and director of The CoArt), who co-sponsored the Artist Residency at The Blue Cactus, newly introduced as a prize in the 2021 National Portrait Award Competition (organized by Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville). He was very helpful in sharing information on Barcelona, which I planned to traverse in search of art materials I meant to make use of during my residency. After making my purchases Elton accompanied me to the train station and made sure I boarded the correct train. (He was always available to help with valuable insight and advice during my 4-week stay in this beautiful country.)

30 Minutes by train later I arrived at a town named Villa Franca, where I met with Julian Arendt, owner of The Blue Cactus Artist Residency, and co-sponsor of the Portrait Award Residency prize. Julian is a retired architect, who is now pursuing sculpture. He initiated this Residency program which is designed to enfold the artist in the natural world.

I stocked up on some fresh supplies before we made our way to the beautiful rural residency, located in 12 acres of stunning countryside in the Alt Penedes, my new home for the next couple of weeks. When Julian showed me around, introducing me to the facilities, I immediately felt inspired and at ease by the idyllic surrounds. My room had the most amazing views of the majestic Montserrat mountain, and exploring the property yielded a plethora of natural treasures amongst pine forests, vineyards, almond-, olive – and fig trees.

The studios are set up in a way to allow artists to work either inside or outside in nature. They are equipped with various tools to aid in the creation process, including easels, desks, turning tables, electric chisels and more. Other facilities included a communal kitchen, outdoor area for social gatherings – And the swimming pool was not off bounds, it could be used, but restricted to certain times due to the drought.

My mornings started at around 7 am. I enjoyed a cup of coffee and explored the farm, enjoying the changing scenery and fresh country air. I took a sketchbook with me on these outings in case I felt inspired by the landscape. Some days I made use of the small plein air studio, which was nestled amongst the foliage, but most of my time was spent in the spacious painting – perfect for creating larger works of art. In the afternoons I would sometimes take a siesta to recharge, but I tried to make use of the studio most of the time, sometimes working until quite late.

A few artists joined the residency for a brief period, including local painter and sculptor Dani Buch, Israeli Sculptor Stav Yosaha and Juan Conde, a graffiti artist originally from Uruguay. During their stay, we started cooking together, and ended up having supper late at night, after a full day of creating and conversing. As a group, we took a daytrip together to Montserrat, and visited castle ruins near the farm. In fact, I made time to visit nearby villages as a break from painting. Sant Quinti de Mediona is but a mere 20-minute walk or cycle away. Julian went into town often, and kindly offered the option of a lift when needed. One of the highlights was being able to experience the Sant Quinti de Mediona Corefoc (Fire Runs) Festival. This is celebrated as a symbolic expelling of the devil from town; with firecrackers dousing raucous revelers in a steady stream of sparks. Experiencing other cultures’ traditions and way of life is priceless. The people of rural Spain are jovial and although most can’t speak fluent English, they always try their best to help and be accommodating.

All in all, it was an unforgettable experience. It was freeing to be able to focus on making, with the only worry being where to get my coffee fix. I initially panicked that I was not going to be able to produce enough work while on the Residency, but decided to rather focus on experimenting and exploration, rather than focus on pure production.  Once I consciously made this decision, I was able to enjoy my experiences and allow this wonderful opportunity to inspire and help me grow as an artist. I was able to create more than enough work and enjoy the wonders rural Spain had to offer.

Andrè Serfontein is a multidisciplinary artist, mostly specializing in the human figure. He has been a top finalist in three of the previous Portrait Award competitions, placing third in 2019 with his portrait entry titled ‘Oliver’.

For more information on the Residency program:

For more information on the upcoming 2023 Portrait Award:

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