A real thing for plas­tic

Ac­claimed artist cre­ates ex­tra­or­di­nary work from bits and pieces that most of us see only as rub­bish

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOOD ART -


IN­TER­NA­TION­ALLY-ac­claimed “green” artist Mbon­geni Buthelezi sees his work as a mes­sage of hope. Like the dirty plas­tic he picks up and turns into art, he be­lieves that any­one can change their sit­u­a­tion and turn it into some­thing they ad­mire. Week­end Ar­gus caught up with the Jo­han­nes­burg-based artist who is busy with a na­tional trav­el­ling ex­hi­bi­tion in a bid to pro­mote his unique “green” art.

When did you start do­ing art?

I’ve been an artist for 20 years. I started do­ing the or­di­nary stuff, which is paint­ing and draw­ing.

What in­spired your “green” art?

In 1991, af­ter the paint­ing and draw­ing, I wanted to ex­per­i­ment with some­thing dif­fer­ent. I also re­alised that in this in­dus­try one needs to be ex­tra­or­di­nary to stand out. I de­cided to try and de­velop some­thing that has never been seen as a form of art, but some­thing that’s seen as rub­bish, prob­lem­atic and dirty. I was re­garded as a rub­bish col­lec­tor. How­ever, plas­tic is a very se­ri­ous form of art and I see my­self as a per­son who con­trib­utes to­wards the en­vi­ron­ment; I do not look at my­self as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist but I make a dif­fer­ence.

How do you col­lect your ma­te­rial?

Some­one col­lects it for me and I also work with a re­cy­cling com­pany. But if I see some beau­ti­ful pur­ple plas­tic I stop and pick it up. How­ever, I’m not a rub­bish col­lec­tor; I am an artist.

Have you used other ma­te­ri­als be­fore?

Yes. My back­ground is for­mal draw­ing. How­ever, I felt bored. Ev­ery Tom, Dick and Harry does that. I wanted to do art that is dif­fer­ent. I wanted to use some­thing dif­fer­ent to ex­press my­self. It is a fas­ci­nat­ing process.

I dis­cover new things all the time. I find a new lan­guage ev­ery day. The paint­ings re­spond dif­fer­ently all the time – that leads me to take it fur­ther. The medium tells me to try new ways. At some stage I look at my work and ask the ques­tion, “how did I come to this?” Ev­ery corner of my art is dif­fer­ent from an­other. I’ve got 20 tech­niques that I use. It goes be­yond the plas­tic – it’s fun.

Where do you get your ideas?

I am a hu­man be­ing; I stay with other hu­man be­ings and I pick up so many things from them and I trans­late that in my work.

I like do­ing por­traits – they’re in­ter­est­ing be­cause you cap­ture fas-

cinat­ing ex­pres­sions. Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent masks. The hu­man body needs to be ex­plored. A woman’s body is such a beau­ti­ful art work on its own.

How do you feel about the state of art in South Africa?

I’m from the old school of artists, but I be­lieve it has changed for the bet­ter. There are bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties for artists now.

There are gal­leries that show­case black artists. Artists now travel and share ex­pe­ri­ences with other artists. It is re­ally im­prov­ing.

Do you think more artists should fol­low your ex­am­ple in terms of us­ing re­cy­clable ma­te­rial in their art?

I wouldn’t say they should fol­low what I do; they can learn from what I do, learn, ap­pre­ci­ate and be able to use it dif­fer­ently.

In Bloemfontein I did work­shops with young peo­ple – that was a way of say­ing, “look at what you can achieve as an artist”.

You can break away from this and grow from it. You do not lose any­thing if you share your knowl-

edge with young peo­ple.

How do you feel about the World Cup?

It is a good thing. It has given peo­ple jobs, roads have been im­proved and we now have the Gau­train – all that is pos­i­tive. As an artist I don’t think it is go­ing to ben­e­fit me, but I’ve been in­vited to take part in ex­hi­bi­tions . But we need to look be­yond June and July – peo­ple are so ob­sessed about this one month. I’m not re­ally crazy about it. I’ll still be an artist even af­ter the World Cup. The strug­gle con­tin­ues.

DIF­FER­ENT: Mbon­geni Buthelezi, 45, with one of his works of art, made of re­cy­clable ma­te­ri­als.

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