Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Angel face: painting Bheki Mseleku

When The Orbit opened up, I happened to know the owner, Aymeric Péguillan. At its height I played there with Uhadi, Carlo Mombelli and the Prisoners of Strange, Language 12 and Bombshelter Beast, among others. Péguillan knew Bheki Mseleku was the most iconic and most neutral person. “Neutral” because he was so internationally acclaimed and yet so local, being from Durban. 

I was studying music at the Manhattan School of Music in New York when I was introduced to a lot of his music. The lecturers opened up that world for me. He was a major icon, and as I started learning some of his repertoire, I realised just why he was so revered. 

He was on the same level as the likes of the late Chick Corea and he played with all the greats. His was the discography of music you had to digest in order to learn what it took to be a professional at the highest level. He was one of the greatest masters and exports in the jazz scene. I chose an image from one of his album covers and felt that was going to be the one.

At the time, I was transitioning between music and murals. As a musician, I had always been a gun for hire, but as a mural artist, the success of the final creation depended solely on me. The financial factor was a big decider. By the time I was 32, I realised that we had all been earning the same rates (if not less now), than when I was 18 or 19 years old, yet we all had to deal with inflation, just like everybody else.

Pierre Crocquet’s photograph formed the basis of Justin Nomad’s mural in Braamfontein.

Psychologically, painting the mural, which is eight metres high, was interesting because I’m actually scared of heights. It’s a facebrick wall, and with painting on facebrick: there’s very little margin for error, not only regarding dealing with the porous nature of raw facebrick, but also having to constantly climb scaffolding for any small correction that might have been needed. 

That particular image was taken from the Best of Bheki Mseleku album cover and had the angelic feel I was looking to capture. The image itself was black-and-white, so I treated the black part as brick and the white part as highlights. It took about three days to complete from top to bottom.

Looking back on the mural now, I guess the only thing I might’ve changed would be a simpler font for his name, but then again, that’s the process an artist goes through as one grows with time. The true key to portraiture is capturing the image of an artist as well as their spirit.

I was at The Orbit at the time when it was at one of its peaks and doing so well. Every time I saw the mural, I never really looked at it as if it had been my work. I looked at it as an outsider. It was almost as if those three days that it took to paint was painted by the energy of a “muse” guiding me. A lot of people appreciated it and I was grateful for that. It was a way of using my art to give to the musicians who had given so much to me.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate.

Justin Nomad
Justin Nomad is a Johannesburg-based visual artist.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

Finding an HIV vaccine: Five lessons from the search for...

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that vaccine development and testing timelines can be shrunk from decades to months, but not without shortcomings

Pandemic leaves 1.4 billion learners worldwide behind on education

Human Rights Watch warns that learners may take years to recover from the damage caused by school closures

Israel-Palestine: It’s a myth that there are two equal sides...

BDS South Africa calls for the world to listen to what Israel’s actions are saying and apply full sanctions against that apartheid state

Tekkie Town’s Steinhoff fight: ‘We will get our business back’

Bernard Mostert on the ordeal of losing a business he helped build and the fight to get it back
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×