INTERVIEWED BY Amelia Brown IMAGES courtesy of Fhatuwani Mukheli
When you first started sharing your portraits on Instagram, you said you hadn’t drawn for six years. What made you start again?
I got to a point where I wasn’t enjoying my feed – it felt monotonous. It was all about my lifestyle and things that don’t really mean anything to me. So I thought I’d stop posting meaningless things and share a piece of me: My journey to rediscover myself in art again.
You are known for portraiture. What is the secret to capturing such intimate, honest images?
The secret is in the eyes. It’s a skill I learnt through my photography, a journey that’s definitely shaped my illustrative portraiture. But most of my work is inspired and influenced by my advertising experience. Advertising helped me understand how ideas work and branding myself as an artist.
You use the hashtag #arttherapy with your posts. Do you find art a healer?
Art is an amazing healer. When I started drawing again I was in a weird space in my life and art is where I found calmness and ease. It’s so therapeutic.
On Behance you say, “My mom calls me Fhatuwani. The streets call me Steaz.” Can you elaborate on this?
Steaz is my childhood graffiti name. I named myself that because I was really good with wild style tagging and the name kind of stayed with me. I might use it again when I revisit my graffiti element of art.
My name has always been a complicated situation from a young age. I went to Venda for the first half of primary and I was called by my Venda name, Fhatuwani. When my mother moved me to a multiracial school, I had to switch to my English name, Innocent, because no one could pronounce my name properly. I was also shy that I would be the laughing stock at my new school for being Venda.
I realised as I became wiser that my Venda name is much stronger than “Innocent”; it holds so much meaning and strength. Fhatuwani means “be careful, be awake, be wise”.
What (or who) inspires you?
Are there any other artists who have influenced you?
If you could collaborate with a South African artist who would it be?
Wonder Buhle Mbambo. [Read VISI’s interview with him here.] His work is so fresh and speaks to me in so many ways. He’s cool, too, and very humble; I’ve learnt from him without him knowing. I personally think if ever we were to find ourselves in a collaboration, it would be the best thing to come out of SA – haha!
Where do you call home?
Sontonga Lofts in Braamfontein. I love how much natural light my apartment has and it’s just peaceful. I’m surrounded by cool people. My favourite part of my house is the patio. [Take a look inside Sotonga Lofts here.]
If there was anywhere else in the world you would like to live, where would that be?
If you weren’t an artist and creative, what would you be?
I would be Usain Bolt or Wayde van Niekerk! Just kidding, but I would be an athlete.
Do you have a career highlight?
How I got my first job at DraftFCB as an art director. It’s long story for another day.
What is the last piece of design/art you purchased?
I haven’t bought any as yet, but planning to buy a few pieces from [photographer] Andile Buka (@buka_andile).
Are you working on anything specific or do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
I’m just working on producing my work, nothing specific. I’m listening to what my soul tells me and working on it. I have had a few offers for an exhibition both locally and internationally, so watch this space.