Local artist Xolile Mtakatya first began drawing on the walls of the prison cells where he was detained for political activism. Now, almost 30 years later, he is a well established artist with over 200 pieces in Nando’s restaurants and offices around the world. He’s been involved in the Nando’s Artist Society, Creative Block, Nando’s Menu Cover, Shisa Magazine Cover and Chicken Run projects and also did a site specific, large-scale artwork for Nando’s The Yards in Washington, USA in 2013.
One of Xolile’s pieces will be translated onto a mural in Cape Town’s Long Street by Colossal Media as part of the freshly launched Nando’s Accidental Art project. His work was chosen because it’s characterised by an urban vibrancy that suits both large-scale and public art formats. He also uses bright colours and depicts the city bustle in his work, which is ideal for this project and the location. Plus he has experience in large-scale murals, having collaborated on a number of public art projects both locally and abroad.
Here’s an interview with Xolile about the inspiration and motivation behind the masses of beautiful work he produces, his partnership with Nando’s and this specific piece:
When did you realise for the first time that you wanted to pursue art as a career?
When I was detained in 1987 I used to draw with a bent beer cap on the walls of the prison in Mitchells Plain. I was detained for having banned political material. My prison mate told me I should go to CAP (Community Arts Project). That’s where I learnt about brushes, charcoal and different kinds of paper.
What inspires your work, specifically this piece for Nando’s?
Colours motivate my abstract art. I paint realistically as well, but abstract is something I cannot separate from myself because it brings something to me. I can take something figurative and make it abstract. I can take something abstract and make it something figurative. I don’t do preliminary sketches. That’s why my pieces can turn into abstract or figurative pieces.
Some things happen accidentally. I quite like the term ‘Accidental Art’ because it’s city life I’ve portrayed in this specific painting and the Accidental Art site is in Long Street, and I used to live in Long Street in the 80s at a place called ‘Triple Two’ where Brett Murray used to live. I used to squat with Roger van Wyk in Long Street too. I know Long Street well because I was quite a party animal and now it happened accidentally that the art site is in Long Street too.
How does everyday life inspire you?
Life, for me – I consider it as a drama. In the township you’ll find anything happening . It’s like a drama to me and I take the drama and depict it. Whether it’s bad or good. I’m inspired by city life as well because I used to live in the city.
How is this specific piece for the Accidental Art project inspired by and connected to the city?
In most of my abstract pieces – you can call them semi-abstract – people can see figures and objects. There are cars, robots and circles in the composition and this painting was inspired by them. This painting was inspired by the city life in Joburg – the masses of people and traffic.
Tell us about some other murals you’ve worked on.
When I first graduated in 1993 we were commissioned to do a mural for Artscape on the fire curtain. It’s called “History of the Cape”. Since then I did murals with CAP (Community Arts Project) because I was a part-time student there. I worked in different places in Germany doing murals in quite a few different cities, like Aachen, Essen, Osnabrück. I actually did quite a huge mural in Essen. It was 43x29m and I worked with artists from Chile and from Essen.
What are your thoughts on public art? How do you think it influences the people exposed to it and how do you hope to see your piece in Long Street affecting Capetonians?
With a public mural, people should be able to respond. When we do murals abroad, we first speak to the community and discuss what it is about. But I don’t know with the abstract how they’re going to respond – maybe they should enjoy the colours and the rhythm of the painting.
Tell us about your relationship with Nando’s. How has this partnership influenced your career path?
I think creating work for Nando’s trains me. It also boosts my morale in art. Having your own idea and not having any project to work for – that gap can create something. But having a project boosts your morale, you’ve got to do it, you’ve got that energy. It motivates me.
Working with Nando’s you are able to pay rent, you are able to buy groceries – more than having a work in a gallery and you have to wait. I think it has made a good impact in our lives as artists. Sometimes in winter you suffer a lot, but it has made a change in my life – it’s not like before.
What do you enjoy about working on the Accidental Art Project specifically?
I quite like working on this project because people will be seeing my work, this mural, outside. I could take my friends and my family and say, “This is my piece, you can see the signature”. I quite like that a public mural is seen by people, rather than having my piece hung inside an office.
What are your plans and dreams for the future?
I would love to see more of my works painted on walls.
The installation of Xolile’s Accidental Art piece takes place from 7-14 July 2014 on the corner of Long Street and Waterkant Street in Cape Town, so be sure to pop by to see the progress and the final piece.
Watch out for our interview with Colossal Media about their public art and this project specifically.
The interview with Xolile was conducted by Yellowwoods Art.