Loyiso Mkize on the pursuit of African excellence

Visual artist Loyiso Mkize (28) is out to tag his name all over the art industry. He has infiltrated the publishing market with his own visual arts and communication company, Loyiso Mkize Art, which publishes Kwezi, the superhero comic book with a South ­African flavour that has received great traction worldwide.

The graphic design graduate has also worked as an illustrator for the SupaStrikas comic book that is inserted in local magazines and newspapers. When Mkize is not transporting audiences into another world through comic books, he introduces them to intriguing individuals through his paintings.

His debut solo exhibition, Reflections of Inner Truth, was in 2011. Now he is back with another solo exhibition, Reflections. It forms part of the Art Week Joburg 2015 and will also be featured at the FNB Joburg Art Fair this weekend. Tell me about your work in the Reflections exhibition.

The works are the collective result of my years of creating artworks with a specific narrative, that of African aesthetics and identity. It has been a preoccupation of mine for most of my career to navigate the African experience and extract core truths with which to envisage a future. My love for the continent and its people has guided my palette to telling the best of who and what we are.

It’s allowed me to develop a grand, majestic, beautiful, complex and even divine embodiment to my work. And that’s made all the difference in where I place myself in the contemporary art world.

What themes do you deal with in Reflections?
I address themes of time, power, society, culture, social terrain and the dynamic results that develop. I have often had to reconcile with my dilemma – that of acknowledging my indigenous core make-up and culture with the Western [culture] that inhabits my everyday life.

It’s becoming increasingly necessary that I find an ideal to attach my aspirations to. It’s there that I developed the mood that would colour my works. The actualisation of one’s self in our African context and the celebration of that. This, through my Reflections, has become my artistic voice.

Inyanga neenkwenkwezi

How has social media helped you as an artist?
It has formed a big part of the success I have enjoyed as an artist. The fact that I could post an artwork and that it could reach tens of thousands of people became somewhat of a revelation to me.

It meant I had access to an audience and ultimately mass exposure to the world – that I, Loyiso from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape, could have his work known and celebrated in the United States, the United Kingdom, South America, et cetera. It also incentivised me to develop my knowledge and skills as an artist.

We have seen some of your artwork on social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Do you feature new work in the exhibition?
Yes. I have released two new works for the show, Unathi and Ikamva lehlabathi, and the third is a special surprise to be showcased this weekend at the art fair at the Sandton Convention Centre.

Your work features many portraits. What intrigues you about them?
The portraits are interesting to me because they have become a great portal for me to explore people and their complexities, emotions and spirit. I love focusing on the eyes, skin texture, and sometimes emphasise these to push my message across.

The subjects are crowned with surreal imagery. What is the idea or story behind that?
Sometimes the portrait embodies themes or issues that I feel strongly about. That led to this style because I felt like elaborating on the given subject by attaching a visual narrative that would compositionally tell the person’s story, as it were. This device became highly popular in my work so I have found joy in knowing I can share my opinions and ideas further this way.

Pick a colour 

Which individual would you like to paint?
At the moment, it would be my mother – though I doubt she would be patient enough to let me finish.

What element do you think your exhibition brings to the FNB Joburg Art Fair 2015?
I believe we need social commentary – storytelling that speaks to us in a progressive light. We are a people coming into our own and it’s time for us then to claim our own standard. My work speaks to African excellence. It embodies how we ought to look and relate to each other. I want my audiences to see themselves in the works – as grand, majestic beings worthy of being referred to.

What other projects are you working on?
My company is currently a focus. As a visual arts company I am entering business, which will allow me to provide illustration-based communication solutions to clients looking to express campaigns in the medium of comics and other mediums. So far, we have developed and published an entrepreneurship comic book for a local company called Cream and developed an anti-bullying comic book commissioned by Archie Comics CEO [chief executive officer] Nancy Silberkleit.

The Reflections exhibition runs until October 1 at the Eyethu Lifestyle Centre. For more on Mkize’s work, visit loyisomkize.carbonmade.com

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