Wessel Marais was born in 1935 in the small town of Magaliesburg. Before his school-going age, his father, a postmaster, was transferred to Welverdient, a village near Potchefstroom, where Wessel grew up on a plot amongst the white, pink and crimson cosmos. It was here, at the age of five, that he was introduced to drawing by his older friend Simon, the son of a farm-worker. They drew with sticks in the sand, and their drawings were mainly of trains, which Wessel used to draw upside down.
Wessel Marais' father, apart from being postmaster, also an actor and poet from whom Wessel inherited his urge to create. When he had finished school it was not considered economically wise to pursue a career as a painter. His ambition to become a pilot, too, was not practical at the time and instead he studied commercial art.
When Wessel got a job as a commercial artist he continued to paint in his spare time. He also took lessons from Zakkie Eloff, learning how to do portraits in pastel and oil, and drew inspiration from Erich Mayer's landscapes and the masters of French impressionism.
Small art dealers, who found a good market for his works, marketed Wessel Marais' paintings. Guiseppe Cattaruzza, an Italian painter with his own gallery in Pretoria, became interested in his paintings, he not only exhibited them, but he also gave Wessel some valuable advice on how to improve his technique.
Wessel became an instant success, and he felt he was ready to face the world as an artist. In 1970, he took the big decision for a family man to give up his job and started to paint professionally with the support of his wife, Christine.
Wessel held many solo and group exhibitions, and the name Wessel Marais became well-known as one of South Africa's great impressionists of his time. His oil paintings are bright and colourful and have a strong contrast between light and shade. He painted various topics such as scenes of the Cape, sea and landscapes, playing children, flower studies, and still lives, and they are in great demand with South African and foreign investors.
His paintings are a harmonious composition of colour and rhythm and it reflects the artist zest for life. It is especially his landscaoe;s that spontaneously captures the visual impact of time and with an impressionistic handling of light and shadow.
Wessel believed a good artist must be able to interpret any subject matter successfully on canvas. His personal preference was to portray everyday scenes in a playful manner. His ability to portray in vibrant colours is highly appreciated by his many admirers.
"When I am at work" said Wessel, "I am totally absorbed with the intangible elements of the subject matter I try to portray. It is not so much the subject that matters, but the mystic energy floating from it that I try to capture in my oils. Sometimes, I think I come close to succeeding in the capture of the indefinable element some people describe as art. I am however still learning, drawing most of my inspiration while flying my plane, a glider which has made it possible to realise my ambition of becoming a pilot".
Wessel continued to improved in style and execution - the great use of translucent colour and light have given many of his works a "Turneresque" guality, which is most captivating.
Wessel Marais' work has been extensively collected by private individuals and corporations alike, both within and without South Africa. Although much of Wessel's subject matter is South African, his style and manner of painting has a worldwide appeal.
Wessel died on 03 April 2009. He was quoted to have said that one lifetime is not enough to learn everything there is to know about art.