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Undercover Illustrator Coenie Grebe Makes Quickly Observed Portraits with an iPad

When he’s not working as an art director at an ad agency, Coenie Grebe moonlights as a next level undercover illustrator. The majority of his works are housed in his self-described “cupboard of shame” which includes countless sketchbooks, stacks of paper and Polaroids. However, a few of Coenie’s iPad portraits did see the light of day when he made his exhibitory debut as part of the Con.Artists group exhibition in May. Drawn to this digital medium for its immediacy, he creates quickly observed and boldly rendered portraits of his friends.

Soon Coenie will be at Heineken®’s Next Level Bar in Braamfontein to kick off a series of two 30 second portrait sessions (the latter with Lorenzo Nassimbeni) that will be happening in the space. We caught up with him ahead of the event this Friday to find out a bit more about him and his work.

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Have you always been creatively inclined?

I’ve been drawing and making things as long as I can remember. I’m constantly doodling (on my office window, the back of briefs, post-its, other people’s belongings).

Anyone who’s ever been to my flat will know about my “cupboard of shame” that contains a million notepads, sketchpads, stacks of scrap paper and my collection of Polaroids. So I guess that’s a yes?

The first time we saw your iPad drawings was at the Con.Artists exhibition. Had you been making these for a long time prior to the show? Or what led you to this medium?

I actually have massive performance anxiety when it comes to commissions… My drawings and doodles are mostly meant only for me, but Jana + Koos have got a knack of making you do exactly what they want…

After buying a whole month’s paycheque worth of art supplies, I was confronted by that thing I dread most – a big, empty white page. In the end my iPad became the most natural and stress-free way of doing what I love: quickly observed portraits of the people I know.

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Have you been experimenting with any other mediums since?

Actually I’m a really lazy illustrator – in fact I wouldn’t even call myself that! But a few friends have suggested I try and turn some of the naughtier drawings into a crockery range. I think I’ll call it Cockery. Massive pun intended. Sigh.

Are most of the drawings based on people you know? What do you enjoy about making portraits, specifically?

Drawing for me is a massive stress-reliever, and I’ve always been influenced and inspired by other artists, specifically David Hockney’s portraiture. (If anyone is interested there is an amazing new documentary on him by Randall Wright – worth checking out the work of a true genius and not an imposter like me.)

Illustration becomes just another way to document my life through the people I meet and is definitely cheaper than taking endless Polaroids.

Lately they seem to be of my copywriter, Chad. He sits right across from me basically all-day long. Like most people, I draw what I know.

How often do you turn to illustration as a creative outlet, outside of your job as an art director?

All the time! But mostly as rude little drawings during long and boring meetings.

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What do you enjoy about working in advertising?

I’m always interested in working with other people, so the best part is definitely exploring ways to brief all the photographers, designers, illustrators and musicians whose work I love and am deeply jealous of at the same time.

Do you have any habits or rituals that spark your creativity?

Does tequila count? Seriously though, creativity is less about inspiration and more about being disciplined and coerced into doing things. If it wasn’t for Jana and Koos, these drawings would never have seen the light of day. They would’ve stayed on my iPad, which is probably where they should have stayed anyway.

Are you currently working on or working towards anything that we should keep an eye out for?

Watch out for my range Cockery, not coming to a store near you!

Catch Coenie at the pop-up bar on Friday, 4 December from 7pm to have your own iPad portrait made in less than a minute. Afterwards, make sure to snap a selfie in front of Karabo Poppy Moletsane’s colour-in mural!

Follow Heineken® on Twitter and Instagram for regular updates, and find the full programme of events here.


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