Be Honest: The Water-Color Paintings Of Claudia Liebenberg
Photography By Lindy Truter
“I always want to be honest in my portrayal.” When water-color artist and motorcycle enthusiast Claudia Liebenberg began painting, she knew she wanted to be honest—honest about where she comes from, her interests, and how she sees the world. Growing up in rural mountain country in South Africa, Claudia started riding motorcycles at the age of 10. Her father, a motor-head himself and competitive racer, taught Claudia how to ride on an 80cc scrambler, instructing her on how to shift by running alongside, holding the bike’s fender, and guiding her by yelling, “Clutch! One up!”
When Claudia wasn’t ripping around the flat track her father had built, and traversing the country roads near her home, she picked up water-coloring painting as a creative outlet—thanks to her mother’s encouragement. Though water-color is a difficult, unpredictable medium, Claudia quickly took to it because it was, “the only available medium to get an idea or emotion across.” She is not a formally trained artist, but learned how to recreate what she saw in real life on the page by allowing, as she put it, “the subject” to be “the teacher.” And much like motorcycle riding, one has to be patient and mindful in order to do it right.
This idyllic childhood shaped Claudia into the artist she is today. Adamant to honor her parents and her upbringing, each one of Claudia’s paintings exudes such vibrant spirit and character, perfectly capturing a moment in time with photograph-like precision, thanks to her immense attention to detail—even down to the reflection of palm trees in a motorcycle tank.
“I see a motorcycle, but I also see a white tank—and you’ll have a bit of blue on the top from the sky, black or brown from the asphalt or the soil beneath it. It’s never just one thing. You can look at an engine and see silver, or you can see the life that it reflects back at you.”
Debuting her work at a solo-exhibit, Claudia received immense interest in her paintings and began sharing them on Instagram for the world’s enjoyment. Since then, Claudia’s work has caught the eye of brands such as BMW, leading to a successful career painting commissioned pieces.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Claudia one morning about her journey as an artist and motorcycle rider.
AA: Let’s start from the beginning, what got you interested in painting vehicles?
CL: That would 100% be my dad’s influence. He owned an everything-engine-and-wheels business…where we used to play amidst the tools and scrapyard. He always had some sort of classic car parked at home and always took us out for rides. So the interest is most certainly from nostalgia, a place that feels and smells like home.
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. If you asked me as a little girl, ‘What do you want to be one day’ I would’ve said, ‘An artist.’ So when the time came, I went for it. And then I wanted to be honest in my portrayal. I just decided I’m going to start painting from where I come from. (Painting) motorcycles is more like to honor my dad.
AA: What kind of motorcycle do you ride now?
CC: I do love a German machine, and fell in love with the old Airheads. Black with pinstriped paintwork was the color of choice. I initially just dreamed of this machine as a “one day” catch, until a friend and fellow rider let me know that an old gentleman was selling his old gentleman. So I jumped and now the proud owner of a mint-condition 1976 BMW R75/6.
AA: Obviously, part of the attraction to motorcycles is the style and design. As an artist and a rider, do you find yourself more drawn to (no pun intended!) certain styles of motorcycles?
CL: I love the classics. I most certainly have respect for the latest advancements in technologies, but there will always be something soulful about an older machine. I think older machine sounds, smells and quirks are also such an added treasure to the tale. The commissioned pieces always come with many miles and more story. An exhibition is often saturated with folks’ retelling of their encounters with the machine up on display. So that is another drawing card with the classics.
AA: Water-color sounds like a very tricky medium, what made you stick with it?
CL: Water-color just kind of stuck with me because it’s kind of like a life-long friend. I understood it from an early age. It’s very difficult to paint—it’s really got a mind of its own. Because it’s so free in movement. You have to try and capture and guide it into the shape you have in mind, to the color gradient that you have in mind. That has always kept the medium fresh for me.
AA: I feel like one of the things people love about your Instagram page is that you post photos of the progress you are making on these pieces. When did you start doing that? Why did you want to share the process?
CL: It’s just part of what I was doing. It’s quite vulnerable to do that, because it’s not done yet. I was just making people a part of the process. I find it makes them excited to see the next post. I guess that is the nature of the motorcycle community or culture as well. You make people a part of the journey.
AA: Speaking of the motorcycle community, how important is it to you, as a female motorcycle rider, to make art that reflects the way you see motorcycles and motorcycle culture?
CL: Starting out, I didn’t realize that I was creating such a stark, captured contrast. I love delicate anything, but I also love motorcycles and this, I guess was the marriage between the two. Art brings people together, and what fantastic friendships form when the roads are shared too.
AA: What is the latest project you’re working on?
CL: After being contacted for an interview & a feature, I thought it would be a great touch to do something special for the feature that hasn’t featured elsewhere. This isn’t always possible given the client work that needs to take priority. This round I somehow manage to squeeze in not one, but two pieces. Alfa Romeo was at the top of the list. I have done automotive work in the past, but these were such a delight to work on, pushing my skills along as well. By the time I finished the TZ2, I couldn’t wait to get started on the Giulia. The grill & lighting on the Giulia is probably my favorite detailed feature On that particular piece. These two latest automotive pieces have been some of my best work with four wheels so far. Thank you Petrolicious for the inspiration.
AA: This year is Alfa Romeo’s 110th Anniversary. Did you discover anything new about Alfa from the process?
CL: That the oil cap reads “OLIO” and not OIL. Loved that. When I was little, they would ask what do you want to be when I grow up; and I always said “an artist & Italian”. Also, that my father has a great deal of personal experience with a Giulia when he was a young racer.
Painting these two classic Alfa’s has made the prospect of painting classic cars as well a very exciting one. Excited to see what the road holds going forward!
AA: It was so lovely talking with you and learning about your process and your background.
CL: Thank you for a warm reception and the welcome you have given me with this collaboration!
For more of Claudia’s work, visit The Petrolicious Shop.