Featured: Giant Graffiti-Style Portraits by Kilmany-Jo Liversage

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
‘Shina’, 2015.

 

Kilmany-Jo Liversage, also known as Orda, is a Cape Town based artist who sets out to evoke a feeling of universal familiarity in her graffiti-style portraiture. She works in a variety of media including spray paint, acrylics, and mixed media. She has exhibited extensively in South Africa and across the globe, and her work is included in numerous collections. Her current focus is on large-scale, graffiti-style portraiture. Kilmany-Jo draws inspiration from street culture and strives to depict a universal sense of the familiar, paradoxically often using complete strangers randomly picked from mass- or social media and interpreted in her mega-wattage, uber-scaled style as portrait subjects. We chat to Kilmany-Jo about how her distinctive style developed, why her subject matter is primarily female and her unique process of “ordered mark-making”.

 

Your massive installation artwork titled ‘Shina’ steals the show at the recently opened Nando’s in Mapyonya Mall, Soweto. Did the location influence your choice of portrait subject?

 

Yes. I decided to paint a strong, vibrant young girl as an inspirational message to women in Soweto. What I like about graffiti is that it’s bright, hip and talks to all ages, and combining it with traditional portraiture brings other voices. The girl I painted is actually Lupita Nyong’o, the Mexican-Kenyan born actress and film director. In 2013 she became the first Mexican and first Kenyan actress to win an Academy Award. She’s a role model for what it means to be female and to really step into your own power. My subject matter is primarily female as I feel strongly about the role women play in our society and I specifically portray the strength and femme fatalism of women in my portraits to evoke those feelings within the viewer. I think this is important in the face of abuse of women and children, which is a big social problem in South Africa.

 

This is the first time you’ve done a large-scale artwork across a multitude of canvases and the uneven installation brings a new dimension to the experience. What was the inspiration behind this approach?

 

‘Shina’ is actually made of 90 wooden Creative Blocks that are each 42x42cm. The uneven installation gives the composition the element of stipulated ‘order’ that repeats itself often in my work. It’s no coincidence that I tag the streetname ORDA throughout my work – I‘ve always had an interest in impressionistic mark-making through repetitive order-making brush marks or the recurring use of a specific material. Using the Creative Blocks as a canvas was also quite symbolic as my working relationship with Yellowwoods Art and Nando’s began when I started making artworks for them every month as part of their Creative Block initiative.

 

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
‘Shina’, 2015, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board across 90 creative blocks each 42cmx42cm, total installation 6,6m x 3,5m. The artwork is on exhibition at Nando’s Maponya Mall in Soweto, Johannesburg.

 

While your artworks have a distinctly street art feel about them, you use a mix of media in your work, including acrylics, and you often paint on canvas. Is there a long history of street artists working on canvas? Are there any iconic artists amongst them who stand out for you as inspirational?

 

To my knowledge, Basqiuat (AKA Samo) was one of the first artists to experiment with street art on canvas in the 1970s. Banksy kind of started the trend that street art could be interpreted onto canvas and be sought after in the art world. Inspirational street artists for me are Shepard Fairey, Miss Van, Connor Harrington, Space Invader, Roa and JR Artist.

 

Tell us about how you use Orda-making and mark-making in your more contemporary graffiti-style works? Also, can you tell us a little more about how this has changed over time? In your earlier works you used far more tagging than you do now, while in your more recent works you use repetitive vertical drizzles of paint.

 

My ordered mark-making started with ‘Media chopsticks’ where I cut up hundreds of wooden chopsticks and created macro-biospheres with them. These works are now hanging in the University of Technology in Pretoria. Working with different media allows me to explore the fascination towards an ordered composition be it through repetitive mark-making or application of a material. At a stage I worked with silk ribbons and made tapestry like works with hundreds of silken strips. The process of application and the build up of many layers is what’s important to me. This repetitive element is now used in my mark-making on canvas, and it’s all about creating many layers. I first start tagging and then paint a layer of acrylic colour to mute the tagging. Then I start the process over again and start building the portrait within the process. Over time the mark-making has evolved from busy spray painted tags to vertical and horizontal drippings as these mimic the architectural buildings of the urban landscape.

 

Going back to your distinctive street style, how did you first get into the street art scene? 

 

In 2005 I was awarded a UNESCO Aschberg-Medellin Residency in Colombia, South America. This was where the street art bug first bit me. I was given an opportunity to paint murals on the street and instantly fell in love with this style. I was an art teacher at a school in Cape Town for eight years and found the ‘scratchitti’ on school desks as my inspiration and experimented with this style in my paintings. My breakaway from creating ordered artworks through ribbon and wood made me want to be freer in style and tagging my street name onto canvas allowed me to create a new style of order through mark-making.

 

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board 1500 x 1500cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Pavilion, Durban.

 

Was the street art in Colombia ‘of its place’ in any way? And as you’ve explored here and abroad are there particular street artworks that stand out in your memory as exceptional?

 

Yes, the street art in Colombia stood out as being subversive and that was because of the social injustices that were due to the drug-related war being fought there. Internationally, I’ve always liked Belgian artist Roa’s large murals of animals wherever they appear in the world. The street art in Bristol in the UK really made a big impression on me. Street art is alive there in a big way – it adorned every old building in the city. By contrast, street art in South Africa is hugely underrated and mostly seen as a criminal act. Tagging in and around Woodstock in Cape Town expresses some strong messages about government inefficiencies, which has its place with what is happening in SA today.

 

South African street art that stands out for me? Faith47’s poetic visual language has always been inspirational to me, wherever I see it. There are works that adorn huge buildings in the Maboneng Precinct in Joburg including works by Roa and Faith47, while Freddy Sam’s large painting of Mandela as a young boxer is another inspirational visual message.

 

Creating installation art and travelling locally and internationally seem to go hand-in-hand for you. How does the experience of travelling to different places influence the work you create?

 

Traveling for an artist is essential as it broadens one’s aesthetic knowledge. Meeting new people and making art in public spaces creates an amazing dialect between artist and viewer.

 

A great deal of your body of work is exhibited in Nando’s restaurants across the globe. Nando’s isn’t an art gallery and it isn’t a public space as such, but it does get 80 million visitors internationally per year, so that’s a lot of human traffic. What does this mean to you? Does exhibiting in a fast food chain have any impact on your ‘street cred’?

 

I’m proud to provide art for the everyday person and to provide inspirational messages through my artworks. I started with the Nando’s Art Initiative as a young artist doing Creative Blocks. Nando’s has supported me throughout my career and has taken me places I never thought I’d go to make art including Washington and Maryland in the USA and Toronto, Canada. What sets Nando’s apart from most fast food chains is that it prides itself on exhibiting quality South African Art by emerging young artists in their stores around the globe. Nando’s also creates thought-provoking ads that get the message across regarding our political and social injustices. Street food is what the everyday person eats so if my art can be appreciated by such people, well then I’m gaining my street cred right there.

 

Do you exhibit with other galleries locally or internationally? And are you still making independent street art?

 

Yes, in Cape Town I’m represented by Worldart and in Joburg by Lizamore and Associates. I’ve just had a solo show at the Hay Hill Gallery in London and will be represented by Worldart at the Moniker Art Fair in London in October 2015. I created a mural in Vienna, Austria in 2013 for a private residence and will possibly be making a mural in London soon.

 

See more of Kilmany-Jo’s work on her website.

 

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 180 x 150cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg and this image has also appeared on the cover of Nando’s restaurant menus.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board 1500 x 1500cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Pavilion, Durban.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board 1500 x 1500cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Pavilion, Durban.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board 1500 x 1500cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Pavilion, Durban.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board 1500 x 1500cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Pavilion, Durban.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Urba, 2013, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 180 x 150cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Lahe, 2013, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 180 x 100cm. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled triptych, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 1200 x 1455mm each. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Different elements from Kilmany’s Untitled triptych was used on Nando’s freshly launched in-house stationery.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 1100 x 2400. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Queensburgh, Durban.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Untitled, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 1100 x 2400. The artwork is exhibited at Nando’s Queensburgh, Durban.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Washington Graffiti, 2011, Aerosol spray and acryilic paint on board, 3.25 x 4.5m; 3.25 x 5.3; 3.25 x 2.2m at Nando’s Bethesda Row, Washington DC, USA.

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Woodbridge Graffiti, 2014, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board, 5.2 x 2.3m; 5.2 x 3.75m, a portrait of world- renowned graffiti artist Faith47 at Nando’s Woodbridge, Virginia, USA.

Kilmany-Jo Liversage
Toronto Graffiti, 2013, Aerosol spray and acrylic paint on board 2400 x 2200cm. The large-scale graffiti portrait at Canada’s first flagship restaurant in Nando’s Bay Street in Toronto. 

 

More about Nando’s Art Initiative.

 

2 Comments

  1. This is an amazing collection of this artist’s recent work! And the interview comments are appreciated.

  2. Thanks Eileen. Lots of stories behind these beautiful artworks and good to be able to share them.