Tshikare brings fabled beauty to the table

Thing of Beauty Atang Tshikare Furniture

At the start of 2012, Atang Tshikare had never designed much more than a soccer table made from a cardboard box and wire hangers, or a small chair for his grandmother's garden. 

"The fable of beauty and value of function have always been close to my heart, but I've only recently begun to take it all seriously," he acknowledges.

After the former graphic design student was invited to exhibit his work at the Design Indaba Expo as one of 40 "emerging creatives", Zabalazaa Designs, Tshikare's brand, took off at top speed: he's been customising, designing and illustrating ever since, to provide innovative creative solutions to just about anything.

Born in Bloemfontein to an artistic father and a businesswoman mother, Tshikare has become known for combining the inherited skills of both in his creative collaborations with like-minded individuals. 

The latest product of his collaborative efforts, a multifunctional coffee table with coveted furniture designer Cameron Barnes, was part of the first official exhibition at the Museum of African Design in Johannesburg.

Tshikare has drawn himself on to the international map by participating in Design Days Dubai, exhibiting in Germany; and a small store in Oslo, Sweden, will soon stock his work. That's on top of his involvement in several local design festivals and exhibitions. Most recently, he was awarded the Southern Guild Foundation's Future Found Award for 2014, an honour bestowed annually on "a young design company that has shown innovation and has already achieved a degree of excellence with limited resources".

The self-taught multidisciplinary artist applies his geometric line drawings to anything from sneakers to tables. 

Through illustration with an added dash of logic and imagination, he is able to leap "like a forest fire" from one discipline to another – using only sweat, paint and pencils.

"The main reason my work is labelled ‘street' art is that I don't use orthodox methods that are predetermined by some university professor," he says. "I just make things work. No schoolbook can wise you up to raw passion that translates into brilliant work in the highbrow or street art curriculum. You're just born with it, or you can manipulate well."

Fold, the product he collaborated on with Cameron Barnes Furniture, appears to be a simple wooden table adorned with geometric illustrations. Upon closer inspection, the abstract architectural line drawings on the tabletop can be viewed upside down, or at other angles that seem to reshape the image. The table's legs also collapse beneath it, enabling it to be hung on a wall as an artwork when space is needed.

"This type of design is both aesthetically pleasing and functions well, especially for small living spaces," Tshikare says. 

It's part of his new collection of multidimensional and multipurpose furniture, the first products of which are launching in May at the South African Market (Bree Street, Cape Town), followed by a "bold and bigger" collection in June at the Museum of African Design (Maboneng, Johannesburg). But first, the world: next up for Tshikare is the Ventura Lambrate design fair in Milan this April. 

When asked about the rising recognition of his base medium, Tshikare is adamant: "Street art will always trend because rules don't exist, everything is pirated and the only currency is being unique, fresh or provoking. 

"Laws that criminalise street art challenge artists to find new means to keep their work relevant and trendy. 

"This is how I've developed my street style and taken it to new levels. I've shown it to a different audience – one that could never walk into the gutters of downtown."

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