The Portfolio: Senzo Shabangu on not being scared of colour

I did this work during lockdown at a time when people couldn’t go to galleries. It affected us big time because we had to rely on social media and the internet and yet, in some ways, art is not made for that. You have to see it live. The galleries come with stories that things are not going well. Sales are down for most artists, because people can’t gather and collectors are holding back.

  The lockdown brought depression to a lot of people, so you had to be strong in your faith, while isolating from people. If your walls are not entertaining you, you have to go somewhere else to be entertained. I felt like the collectors are the blessed ones because they have something to look at while in isolation, be it a sculpture or a collection of works. 

 For this work, I drew inspiration from the story of Noah’s ark. In the piece, the floods are taking over the world’s buildings. I depict some monumental buildings from around the world, including the White House. There is a bird at the top of the small artwork being looked at by the figure dominating the larger one. In Noah’s story, when the floods were almost over, he sent out a dove and after seven days it brought back an olive branch — a sign that the storm was almost over and that land would appear soon. That’s me trying to be positive; to say we’re not the first ones to tread water or to be in a situation like this. The storm will be over if we look from the past into the future. 

The human figure in the painting might be interested in buying an artwork to collect, but he might be checking his pockets as well. It’s a difficult time — everybody is thinking twice because we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. 

 I used charcoal because my background is printmaking. Recently, I’ve been revisiting the original way I used to work, which was to draw first before making the print. The piece is a huge charcoal drawing on paper, about 200cm by 100cm. I also use acrylic and a bit of water colour. In the artwork the man is looking at, I use watercolours to make it lighter than the rest of the background. My mother used to buy me a lot of watercolours when I was young, so it  was nice to revisit that. 

Most people who have been seeing my prints think that I’m only a printmaker, forgetting that it all starts with a sketch. 

Printmaking is sort of like an addiction, in the sense that when we become artists, there is a push to produce what people like. I felt really overwhelmed when I was producing only prints and had a sense that I would become scared of colour; hence this work, which is not editioned.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     For more of Shabangu’s works, visit the Melrose Gallery.

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