With AiW Guests: Dolla Sapeta and Khaya Gqomo.
A few weeks ago, Africa in Words published the first of our pioneering posts promoting the work of the New Brighton Art School. We sat down with Dolla Sapeta, its founder, to discuss his own art and his hopes for the Centre. We promised to follow this first installment with a series of interviews with up and coming local artists who have been working with Dolla at the art school. And, despite a slight delay as Dolla was busy preparing his Before Dawn exhibition currently open at the GFI Art Gallery in Port Elizabeth, we are now able to bring you the next interview.
Khaya Gqomo spoke to Tom Penfold and Dolla Sapeta to discuss his participation in the New Brighton Art School and what has influenced his own work.
Tom Penfold: It’s good to be able to speak with you Khaya. Can I start by asking how you first got to know Dolla and how has he helped you so far?
Khaya Gqomo: I met Mr. Sapeta back in 2003 when I was doing my 1st semester introductory in Art and Design at Port Elizabeth College. He was my lecturer in the drawing class, and taught the basic ethics in art – the interpretation of form and colour, space and volume studies.
His teachings helped me to be able to define the meaning of being an artist rather than a mediocre artist – to see art as a significant part of life and to be able to interpret what is being displayed by the artist for the audience to grasp: The depth or thoughtful messages conveyed in each artists’ work. Also his constructive criticism pushed me to work even harder and deliver well thought-out art works.
Tom Penfold: How did you subsequently become aware of the New Brighton Art School? What has working together involved?
I personally became aware of the New Brighton Art School earlier this year, after a long period of time crossing paths with Dolla. Almost two decades have passed since we first interacted back in college. He sent me the link to his web page and invited me over to his studio for a brief meeting because he constantly gives art classes to local up and coming youths. He is also at Art on Target as a part-time teacher in Walmer every Thursdays.
When we met he told me about the mentorship program and its developments; how he wanted me to be part of this program with five other young emerging local artists he mentors; how he wishes to insist on pushing forward black excellence in his methods in the mentorship. This really appealed to me but, obviously, the pandemic era has become a shocking experience to everyone. It has been hard to have set classes to fully function even though Dolla had only just finished revamping the studio to accommodate those classes from within.
Tom Penfold: And can you tell us a bit about your style, your influences etc.?
My approach is from a township street-art experience. I am influenced by youths like myself trying to make a living by showcasing their talent between art and music. Even so, I am a traditional artist in terms of observation and depictions, and because of the years spent in the college. First of all I draw and paint from life using canvas, paper, graphite, colour-pencils, pen and ink, fine markers, acrylic, watercolour and oil paint. Sometimes I improvise working with found objects like wood boards, cardboard and scrap paper.
Besides the mentorship program with Dolla I get engaged in individual commercial art projects to make ends meet. I get to use my other artistic attributes working digitally: for example by re-touching or manipulating photographs, or by creating e-Catalogues, PowerPoint Presentations, CD & Food packaging, posters, logos, invitation cards, letterheads, brochures and 3D rotations. I have never exhibited any of my artworks in a gallery setting to the public yet; locally or internationally.
Dolla Sapeta: Within all that you do, what is most important to you and your art and how do you go representing it.
The most important thing to me right now is to grow artistically, to be recognised as an artist. Most immediately, my challenge is to step out of my comfort zone, as you put it recently Dolla… to constantly work as part of a whole instead of working in isolation as I always do. Since I joined the New Brighton Art School mentorship program the main challenge is to work among these different characters who always want to know what I am up to besides being boastful about a new art project they are carrying forward.
However, these constant interventions and interactions in my creative process make me want to respond to my immediate surroundings instead of looking out to overseas role models as a way of aspiration. There is a Jazz club not far from where I live, Junior’s Jazz Club, where these assorted jazz cats from all-over the surrounding townships hang out and collaborate on Thursdays. This has also become my new hang-out too with my small Canon camera. The images I collect from the jazz players from Junior’s is my new theme, and this all makes it different since I happen to know my models by their first names and get to share experiences of our crafts.
Dolla Sapeta: What is the process you use when you put things together, the struggles with joys of being creative?
The hardest part of my creativity is painful absence of a constant and loyal audience and critical voices who can respond to my creativity. I know this will definitely help me grow and be able to employ a broader approach. I feel that your [Dolla’s] critical engagement is not enough. This does not imply a lack of depth in your input and critical observations, but I really think I need different points of view as well.
I guess the financial aspect is also a huge part of this, which goes without saying. Because right now I am constantly creating without the guarantee of an audience or sales being the end result. But the joy is always in the creative process. The technical challenges that make me forget about the end result is the joy; sometimes the hardest part is when I realize that a piece of work is actually finished and I have to pack it in my pile of other finished works…it’s permanent home.
You have encouraged me as my mentor to work towards a change with the other artists in the ruthless noisy interaction of your studio rather than the silent isolation of my home; also to look into my immediate realities for meaningful reflections. I am enjoying all that comes with this new change so far!
Dolla Sapeta: What are your hopes for the future as an artist?
My hopes for the future as an artist is to see the arts being taken seriously like any other professional career, particularly in the black townships. I also think it is important for artists to be treated with respect and not be pressed knees-down on the neck by snobbish gallerists sitting in their high chairs in air conditioned offices.
Tom Penfold: Do you have exhibitions lined up or is there anywhere we can see more of your work?
Yes, there will be a collaborative exhibition organized by my mentor which is introducing new and emerging young local artists, including myself. But, of course, for you to get more details about coming exhibitions where my work will be featured you have to get hold of the organizer himself, my mentor, since he’s the one who came up with this initiative – pushing black excellence.
Tom Penfold: Thanks so much Khaya. And finally, if you had one piece of advice for other aspiring artists what would it be?
Three things really. Networking is important. Creating solid relationships with other artists or any other person for that matter, because you never know if that person can refer you to other relevant people – bringing towards you business possibilities. Secondly, never let anyone in your family and outside tell you otherwise or allow them to look down on you simply because you are doing what they don’t find beneficial to them. Thirdly, always have a backup plan. Something you can fall back into and not far from what you love doing… career wise.
Also, I suppose I really should add – lastly but not least – try to work in a peaceful place where you can lock yourself up away from all the negative energy. Because bad energies can be destructive to your mind, body and spirit.
And live a little! The comfort zone is not a place for the creative enthusiast to habitat.
Each of the upcoming posts in the New Brighton Art School series includes a slideshow featuring a range of each selected artists’ work. Scroll through the following slideshow for more of Khaya’s work.
The Covid-19 Pandemic has also hit the Art School just as it began its new life. If you feel you can support the artists and the project in any way, please contact Dolla Sapeta directly: email@example.com
Or leave your details in a comment here and we can be in touch with you. No help is too much or too little.
We hope you enjoy this series on the New Brighton Art School and the individuals involved.
There is always young talent. It just needs support!
To hear more about the founding of New Brighton Art School and to view Dolla Sapeta’s work and images from his studio, follow the link to the first post in our series, “The New Brighton Art School“. Tom Penfold’s review of Sapeta’s literary debut, a poetry collection entitled Skeptical Erections (2019), precedes Sapeta’s Words on the Times, where current practice between writing and painting and the germination of the Art School come together. Check it out here.
Khaya Gqomo was born and bred in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth on South Africa’s Eastern Cape. He discovered the love of art and drawing at the early age of 11 and, in 2003, enrolled at Port Elizabeth College Art and Design. There he majored in History of Art and took courses in graphic processes, drawing, textile design/fibre art, and entrepreneurship and business management. He has since gone on to study Graphic Design at CTU Career Campus.
Examples of his latest work can be found on his various social media channels:
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/gqomokhaya144