Some of Nelson Makamo’s paintings sell for hundreds of thousands of rands. Singer Annie Lennox and designer Giorgio Armani own his work. But he remains humble about his achievements. Now, the 34-year-old artist has been invited to complete a three-month residency in France with the Southern African Foundation for Contemporary Art.
Makamo leaves this week for the southern town of Saint-Émilion, where he will join a number of other artists from southern Africa.
He will also travel through the country to find inspiration for his art.
Makamo and the other African artists will be following in the footsteps of some of history’s greatest artists who have produced series of works inspired by the French countryside. The residency focus Makamo on producing a series of drawings, a more intimate medium from his usual large-scale paintings and monographs.
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Speaking from his sunlit studio in August House, in downtown Johannesburg, Makamo says he has a few good ideas for what he wishes to create. “For me those are going to be three months of just doing sketches only. I have two concepts in mind: either I’m going to produce blocks of small oil paintings or a series of sketches.”
The work Makamo and his peers produce will be exhibited in a prospective museum for South African contemporary art in France. “They invite artists from South Africa and we all come with different concepts. We put together a body of work and they curate and show it.”
Makamo says he will use the countryside concept back in South Africa where he will look to create new works based on local rural communities. One of these ideas is a school mural project he wants to take to small towns across the country.
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After the Saint-Émilion residency, Makamo will host an exhibition in Paris with artwork produced during those three months under the title An African in the south of France.
He will also be using the residency to prepare for a solo exhibition of his larger works in Munich, Germany in 2017.
An artist evolving
Makamo believes the residency and the focus on sketches will bring about a transformation in his work. “There’s something about drawings that will always be mind-blowing. I always say to collectors, ‘You can’t say your collection is complete if you don’t have drawings from an artist.”
Makamo says an artist’s sketchbook is where ideas are born. He has about 150 sketchbooks. “That’s the work that is hardly exhibited. I sketch almost every night when I get a chance. I’ve never done a show with only drawings and that is one of the things I’m planning to do in South Africa; just to have an exhibition of small drawings, from some as small as A5. It’s going to be stories of life, like what I’m feeling at that moment.”
Makamo’s inspiration comes from the everyday life, observing and speaking to people around him. “[Inspiration] comes from people I always have a conversation with. It can be a joke or something else we have shared, and you always visualise those things. And what do you do? You summarise them and turn them into pieces of art.
“I miss those days when I used the taxi because you realise that people read a lot and you underestimate that. You get that from a conversation that someone would share, something that you were not aware of. As long as you are alive you’re a scholar of life. So you can’t say you’ve (finished studying) because every day is a new thing.”
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