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.

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and access the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. To follow the news, sign up to our daily elections newsletter for the latest updates and analysis.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, you can a full year’s access for just R510. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

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

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Andries Tatane’s spirit will drive fight against ANC in Ficksburg

The nascent Setsoto Service Delivery Forum is confident it can remove the ‘failing ANC’ in the chronically mismanaged Free State municipality

Paddy Harper: On gleeful politicians and headless chickens

Paddy Harper doesn’t know who to vote for yet, since the Dagga Party isn’t contesting his ward, but right now what to order for lunch is a more pressing concern

Malema: ANC will use load-shedding to steal votes

While on the campaign trail in the Eastern Cape, EFF leader Julius Malema, without evidence, claimed the ANC was planning to use rolling blackouts to ‘steal votes’

Khaya Koko: The looting isn’t over until the fat belly...

A song about Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane preventing looting was way off the mark in a province riddled with corruption and theft
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×