Karlien de Villiers was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1975. She studied Graphic Design and Illustration at the University of Stellenbosch. After graduating in 1997 she worked as a commercial designer for an advertising agency in Cape Town.
In 2006 she completed her MA in Information Design at the University of Pretoria, and has worked as a Lecturer in Illustration and Graphic Design at the University of Stellenbosch's Visual Arts Department from 2006 to 2017.
She is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel ‘My mother was a beautiful woman’. The novel was published in a German translation in Switzerland (Arrache Coeur/Edition Moderne), and emerged as the second-best seller at the Fumetto International Comics Festival in Luzern in 2006.
The book has since been translated into French (Ça et La), Spanish (Glenat) and Italian (Comma22). She has had a number of solo exhibitions locally and abroad (including in Switzerland and Germany) and regularly participates in local and international group exhibitions. Her work is widely sought after and has been collected by private, corporate and museum collectors from all over the world.
De Villiers is best known for her paintings, works on paper, and comic book illustrations. Her work is playful and irreverent with a gloriously dark subtext. In recent years De Villiers’ creative work has expanded from the printed book to include large scale paintings, original artworks on paper, limited editions prints and sculptures.
De Villiers works in a mode of portrait illustration across various mediums, including oil, watercolour, sculpture, and printmaking. Each medium imparts its own distinctive features but the cast of naively-rendered figures remains constant, exerting their tragicomic pathos and prevailing sense of doom. In oils De Villiers’ characters have a plasticine quality while in watercolour, ghostly washes describe domestic scenes fraught with unease or her insecure but defiant heroines.
Rich with irony and the interrogation of taboos, her stylized images contain grinning skeletons, world-wise women, love-less liaisons, and dejected sitters all seemingly plucked from lives riddled with anxieties but handled with humour. Her re-examination of what passes for perversion is couched in the symbols and memorabilia of 1980s and 90s South Africa, floral frocks, and barking dogs.
In examining the dispiriting elements of the human condition and of her own history, social issues have come under De Villiers’ purview, among them divorce, violence, sexuality, gender, and the twinging pains of existence. De Villiers’ simplified style and sardonic humour make her sophisticated commentary palatable and relatable.
In 2011 De Villiers was awarded the prestigious UNESCO-Aschberg bursary for Visual Arts.