To be honest, this year has not been kind to me. I’ve suffered an onslaught of disappointments, health issues and failures. But I’m still standing, and I still have some fight left in me. It wasn’t an entire fiasco, art-wise at least.
2019 has been a big year for my art career. My website launched, with a design that represents my artistic spirit, and I’ve had success in selling online, albeit a small number of sales. It feels like an absolute success to me because, in the past, I’ve only sold one measly artwork. It took me a few years to build up a substantial body of work and to find my artistic style and creative voice. It’s been a journey filled with so many learning experiences, all culminating in the next step forward: actually, selling my art.
I’ve also taken the step to approach art galleries. (Insert audible gulp) Finding gallery representation in art leaning on the darker side is tricky, but I was fortunate enough to be part of 2 exhibitions this year. The first was the massive group exhibition at the Julie Miller Investment Art Institute: Africa’s Art Collective Autumn Edition. It was a show-stopper of an event showcasing artwork from emerging as well as established artists in South Africa. My second exhibition was at the relaunch of Underculture Contemporary Gallery. The event was intimate, and it was a huge honour to showcase my art alongside fellow artists in a space dedicated to our unconventional aptitude.
Towards the end of the year, I’ve set aside the entire month of October to partake in the annual art challenges: Inktober and Drawlloween. Inktober is a worldwide phenomenon. Thirty-one days of creating artworks in ink with the help of a prompt list to get your creativity flowing. Artists and non-artists alike enjoy the challenge of creating artwork every day. Some of us decided to do a double challenge by joining Mab Graves’ Drawlloween Club. The same rules apply, but with a Halloween and pop culture themes, and instead of using ink exclusively, any medium is welcome. Halfway through, I started burning out and struggled to push through.
Shortly after Inktober / Drawlloween, I dived right into an artwork that’s close to my heart. Long it has been a dream of mine to create a Tarot Deck, but my limitations kept me from taking it further. I’ve been graciously accepted to submit a design for 78 Tarot’s up-coming deck: Tarot Ecological. Myself and 77 other artists from across the globe have been assigned a single card to create an artwork for. It has been the jolt I needed to start planning my deck.
Currently on my desk is a series of illustrations I’ve been working on entitled Delusions of Disintegration. I aim to have the series ready for an exclusive digital exhibition in 2020, which is an exciting project I’ve been planning.
Being an artist from humble beginnings, and knowing what it feels like to live in poverty, I’ve found that innovation plays an essential role in creating your art with limited resources. Mentorship was something I wasn’t privy to, which is why I’ve been forging connections with artists on social media, at various stages of their careers, offering advice and encouragement. Recently I launched a newsletter explicitly aimed at artists, to share the knowledge and resources I’ve gained throughout my life. It may be a drop in the bucket, but I struggled on my own to figure everything out, and I hope it adds value to someone. Seeing others succeed is something I value highly.
Nothing irks me more than pretentious people bragging about their supposed original artwork from someone who died centuries ago. Countless living artists make art that blows my mind, and to see them struggle for survival is unfair. Let’s make 2020 the year where we shove our art into the faces of the high-browed hypocrites. They can’t ignore us if we keep creating.
No matter what 2019 threw at you, or what the next year will bring, keep making your art.
The Oryx, or as South Africans call it, Gemsbok, is a majestic, large antelope with distinct black markings that sort of look like its wearing corpse makeup and might start head-banging spontaneously. Although it looks heavy metal, it behaves more like a soft Chopin composition. It’s a creature that doesn’t like violence but will defend its herd fiercely. (Judging by those long horns)
For me, an Oryx is a reminder that I have many arduous obstacles to overcome that might be doable if I shake myself out of complacency. It is the silent strength of dragging myself out of bed each day and creating something, either digitally or with pencil on paper. It is the strength to hold the pieces together gracefully.
In my illustration, the creature exists peacefully, looking off into the distance, lost in its thoughts. It seems unperturbed by the violent disintegration of its face. It just accepts it as usual. So it is in my life as well. I only exist, staring off into the distance, while it feels like I’m violently disintegrating.
The multitude of glazed-over eyes has the same calm demeanour of the Oryx, except for one slightly alarmed eye. It evokes a feeling of calmness on the surface, with underlying chaos and turmoil: All is not what it’s supposed to be. It is like knowing you’ve been exposed to lethal amounts of radiation and can do nothing but wait as the effects take hold of you—an inevitability, and therefore an acceptance of your fate.
The eyes go up in smoke, leaving the fumes to envelop the creature, while its black markings are falling off the neck, creating an unwinding effect. The colour is draining from it. The grooves in the horns are slightly deformed to stand in contrast with the realism in the creature’s face.
Eighteen metallic studs float on the folds of the flapping skin. The 18th card in the Major Arcana of the tarot is the Moon. Which is a card of mystery, the unknown and deception? The Moon warns us to look closer because things are very often not what they seem. It shows us that we’re face-to-face with our inner shadows and anxieties.
In the Elder Futhark, combining the numbers gives you the number 9, which represents the rune Hagalaz. It governs the inevitably of fate and transformation. It warns us against disasters in our lives that are of control, which could be mentally or physically. So how does one overcome calamity? By shaking oneself out of complacency, and moving one foot forward at a time.
9 represents the days Odin hung on the great tree of life: Yggdrasil. The way we hang ourselves spiritually and beat ourselves up for every mistake we’ve made, or every loss we suffered.
From rock-bottom the only way is up, it cannot get worse.
“I wish I could throw off the thoughts which poison my happiness,
but I take a kind of pleasure in indulging them”
– Frederic Chopin
I’ve never been an art supply snob, I’ve always used the tools I had at my disposal or those I could afford. The humblest ballpoint pen; the most basic paint set; the HB pencil that somehow lived with me for 20 years; the A4 office print paper; and the cheapest paintbrushes in the history of art. My philosophy was: If it gets the job done, then why change it?
That is why, in my absolute nonchalance I’ve managed to gather a few very prized materials, and only realised it after comparing them with the “basic” ones, and (admittedly) fawning over the crème de la crème on art websites. This is how I managed to acquire a set of Derwent Graphite Pencils (I’ve had them for 18 years and only lost my H pencil) and a modest collection of Daler Rowney brushes.
My other brushes pale in comparison with the Daler Rowney’s. The smoothly varnished wooden handle, tapered to fit snugly between my fingers, which is a big deal, because I’m left-handed, and it is challenging to find even a pair of scissors or a cake fork that feels comfortable to hold. Even the act of writing cursive is somewhat arduous. But the Daler Rowney’s feel like they’ve been crafted to fit my hand precisely. Especially my ½ Flat Wash Brush. It feels almost magical.
Magical, like a wizard’s wand from Ollivander’s Wand Shop: A wand that chose to make me its wielder. It glides effortlessly around me as I paint on my imagined canvas in the air: Swish and flick. The bristles sigh contently when I dip it in oil paint and cast it onto canvas. It dances like a ball of light. Afterwards, the ritual of cleaning begins: washing all the paint off with the finest quality dish wash liquid I can afford, wiping it dry with a soft facial tissue, and inspecting each bristle with great affection. I’ve even considered storing my dearest Daler Rowney’s in a silk-lined casket or mounting them on a wall bracket within a frame. My other brushes are ashamedly not handled with the same care. The porcelain brush rest is reserved only for my favourite brushes, and the others will have to make do with recycled tin.
If I were to turn into a brush snob, I still have a long way to go when it comes to collecting superior quality paintbrushes. But for the moment, I marvel at my unassuming little collection and believe that the wand chooses the wizard.
“A paintbrush is the only tool I use extensively in my works, to push paint on canvas and conduct melodies.
And that’s exactly what Garden Avenue is, and all of my projects after that.”
Imagine taking a bite out of an apple only to have sharp bones lodge into your gums: absolute horror.
Maybe in the not-so-distant future, it’s not so fanciful, now that our food is being genetically modified to feed the grossly over-populated globe. Nature will find a way to even the numbers out: soaring temperatures, melting icecaps, erratic and monstrous storms. Perhaps our food will start to turn on us as well. But that seems to be happening already. We have severe gluten intolerances, deadly allergies, diabetes, and heart disease due to our over-consumption of unhealthy food.
And then there is the vegan debate: yay or nay? So many meat lovers detest veggies. I knew a guy who refused to eat his food if any vegetables touched his meat-only plate. Vegans are known to be opinionated, and it annoys meat-eaters much. I’m a closet-vegetarian, which means I enjoy meatless options but I also enjoy a braai once in a while. I know, it is shameful. But is it ethical to eat living things? Every living thing can feel the pain of some sort and have the instinct to survive and be alive—even plants.
We can take it a step further into the realm of fruits and vegetables. What if they had skeletons, nervous systems, or voices to scream with? If carrots cried out, we’d surely not eat them.
I started with Sweet Potato because my sweet potatoes started sprouting and were so beautifully persistent to live. It’s funny how a single thought can develop into something completely different, that’s how I ended up with bones in my drawings. From there I had to do Dragon Fruit, Beetroot and of course Apple. All of them with different types of bones: rib cage, fingers, fish skeleton, and bones scrunched together. I added a hint of colour over the graphite to separate the bones from the image and add a little whimsy to an otherwise macabre idea.
”This is necessary…This is necessary…
Life feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on”
If you turn on the news, all you see is natural disasters, protests, famine, war, political BS, racism, bombs, and rage all-round. Yes, I can undoubtedly say that we live in the era of the war machine. Everyone’s in a hurry and quick to anger (and easily offended). I’ve even observed similar behaviour in birds: they lose their tempers at each other over scraps of food and come 17:00, even the usually docile pigeons start flying to their roosting spots at urgent speeds.
The world rushes by, and I stand still at the centre of its monstrous storm.
I’ve jotted down the idea of creating a war scene on a moth’s wings (similar to my Infernal Lucanus: the nine circles of hell on a stag beetle’s back), but researching war leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So I just let it flicker in the back of my mind for a couple of years, until recently. Many things conspired in my life that lead me to face the War Moth finally. I reckoned if I could face terrible loss and bottomless depression, I could face war in graphite on paper.
If war broke out on the back of a moth, would it be too insignificant for us to see? Would it open a portal for more evil to seep through to poison our hearts and devastate our lands? I used the Death’s-Head Hawkmoth as a base for my illustration, but instead of a skull at its head, I positioned a gas mask which gives it a look of surprise—the same look we all will have on day zero.
Bellum Lepidoptera is in sorts a homage to Picasso’s Guernica, which is a painting of deeply moving horror, in my opinion. That is why I included a horse. My horse has burned from nuclear exposure: melted skin and smoke around it. It rears up from a smoke cloud, which in turn reveals ruins and crumbling buildings.
On the opposite wing is an atomic explosion with various bones scattered throughout. The smaller wings in the centre fade into the remains of burnt trees: a barren landscape. Precisely what our world is starting to look like if we can see through the smog every once in a while.
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”