Zenande Mtati is a Johannesburg-based, self-taught visual artist. Born and raised in East London, his love for art was evident from a young age.
‘As social as I was growing up, I enjoyed being in my own space and recreating images I had seen around me, in the form of sketches and rough illustrations,’ says Mtati. The artist works with pen on paper, mixed media, and is also a photographer. His digital artwork and illustrations show an extensive range of styles from which his unique style has evolved.
For Creative Feel, Kaya Mazule speaks to Mtati about his work, being an artist during Covid-19, and artist finances.
Tell us about your art background and what got you into the creative side of life?
I’m a natural-born artist as from an early age I was into doodling and drawing images I would see on TV. As I grew up, my interest and skill in my craft really took off, and since then I’ve never really looked back. I’d known what I wanted to be since I was a kid, and so now here I am, still on my path to being a great artist.
What inspires you to create the art and style that you are currently into?
The people I meet and interact with feature a lot in my artwork. Sometimes it is people that I meet in passing, but if they touch my life in a negative or positive way they might feature in my works. I try to capture the black experience in my work – the world from a black person’s perspective.
Whose work besides yours do you really like and follow at present and why?
I actually follow quite a number of people’s work, even my friends. But if I was to say the person whose work stands out the most for me, it’s Blessing Ngobeni. His art style is simply impeccable, and I’m also inspired by the level of success he’s achieved.
As an artist, how do you earn a living?
I make sure I market myself very well, especially on social media. I have a defined target market who I reach with my craft. I live off commissions and art sales and once in a while I exhibit my artwork to also reach more people who are interested in my paintings.
Do you feel like you earn enough to live as an artist without any sort of assistance?
I feel like we all need some kind of assistance to grow in the arts, but yes, I feel I am self-sufficient and independent to a large extent. It all depends on what you are trying to achieve – that is the best way to gauge the need in terms of finances, sponsorship etc.
What are your opinions on current funding initiatives for artists in SA?
I think the government should play its part in making sure artists are able to play a functional part in the economy, especially in these Covid-19 times. The entertainment industry is made up of artists and sportsmen and women as well; and these are the highest-watched and followed industries for leisure and enjoyment. If these people are to keep afloat in this pandemic, as they have been shut down for a while, the government has to step in.
In the same breath, artists should not entirely rely on the government, as at times the government isn’t as reliable and timely as we would wish it could be. We, as artists, need to find ways to function without relying on external systems and situations working in our favour, and this is doable.
If you were to give any advice to young people who want to dive into the arts, and perhaps take up art as a full-time career, what would you tell them?
I would tell them to not make a separation between their work (art) life and so-called ‘normal’ life. That they should become fully devoted to their craft if they want to become impactful artists.
See more of Zenande Mtati’s art on Instagram: @mike__skrill__