From scratching drawings into the walls of his prison cell as a political detainee, to a world-renowned artist who expresses joy, poetry and inspiration in his bold abstracts and semi-abstracts, Xolile Mtakatya has come a long way. Here we speak to the artist about his process and his journey as an artist so far. 

Untitled abstract, oil on canvas, 1000 x 1500mm. Nando’s The Square, Botswana.
Untitled Abstract, oil on canvas.1500 x 1500mm, Nando’s Applecross, Australia.

Starting from nothing’ is something you’ve said you’ve always done in your life as an artist. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Well I’ve been drawing since I was at school using a ballpoint pen and an exercise book – we weren’t provided art as a subject. When I was detained as a youth activist I had some bottle caps in my pocket. I bent them and started scratching on the walls of my cell in Mitchell’s Plain, telling and recording the story of my political detainment. One of my inmates told me I should go to a community arts project and in 1987 when I was released, I did that. I have now had an international career as an artist. Every painting starts from nothing. It depends on the mood that I’m in at that point of time. I prefer many colours when I’m painting. Sometimes the painting is a creation of my feelings – like joy – and sometimes it’s inspired by poetry, or recalling the abstract masters who inspired me and how to approach my work – starting from nothing.

Untitled abstract, oil on canvas, 1200 x 1200mm, Nando’s South Africa.

Tell us a little about your artistic process.

Abstract and semi-abstract artworks are my thing. I’m a dreamer, and I translate my ideas by sketching them, then turn that preliminary sketch into something else. If you’ve seen the huge mural above Nando’s Long Street, that will give you an idea of my style from an artwork that is an abstract of my experiences of nightlife ­– I used to be a wild party animal! The mural is an upsized replica of one of my original artworks that was installed by Colossal Media as part of Nando’s Accidental Art project that rolled out during Cape Town’s World Design Capital. I like that the installation is placed in Long Street as I used to hang out with the arty crowd who frequented Long Street, and stay over with friends who lived there and were studying at Michaelis. People from my township who have seen the installation without knowing anything about it come and find me to tell me they instantly recognised it as my work. And when I take people from overseas to see it they also tell me they recognise my signature style and would know it’s mine, even if they’d seen it without me. Colour and shape are just the way I interpret my stories in my own way.

Untitled abstract, mixed media on canvas, 1000 x 1000mm, Nando’s Bruma, Johannesburg.
Untitled abstract, oil on canvas, 1000 x 1000 mm, Nando’s Central Kitchen, Johannesburg.

Nando’s has also played a role in your career as an artist. What does this mean for you?

I’m a member of Nando’s Artist Society, and part of the Creative Block programme that Nando’s supports. I’ve been a part of Nando’s Chicken Run, I’ve had my artwork installed in Nando’s in Long Street and in 2013 I went to Nando’s The Yards in Washington USA to create a site-specific installation in their restaurant there – and there have been other collaborations too. So Nando’s has played an ongoing role in my career as an artist. I like that their programmes allow good support to explore different mediums because we are able to afford different materials, and I’m always experimenting with different techniques for the monthly hand-ins. I enjoy playing the role of an artist in these programmes. It’s like working at gallery exhibition level but with more financial security than showing work or going on consignment, and that takes the stress off and allows creativity to flow. It also makes a big difference to have an artistic community rather than just staying at home and working by myself. Mingling, chatting and making friends with other artists has really helped. 

Any upcoming exhibitions?

Yes, neither have been 100% confirmed but there’s one on the cards locally and another in Helsinki.

Installed as a 7m x 9m large-scale replica on the street-side wall of Nando’s Long Street as a public art installation for the 2014 Cape Town World Design Capital project.
Untitled abstract, Oil on Canvas, 1000 x 1500mm. Nando’s UK

Stand a chance to win an original artwork!

Buy a Nando’s 1/4 chicken single side + 330ml Liqui-Fruit for R54.90 and SMS #nandosART, your name and email to 32141, and you could win an original artwork by your choice of four blazing hot talents –Swain Hoogervorst, Xolile Mtakatya, Nkoali Nawa or Karen Cronje.

*T&C’s apply, SMS costs R1, for full T&Cs visit www.Nandos.co.za.

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