Artists We Love: Flower in Water

INTERVIEWED BY Michaela Stehr IMAGES Flower in Water

Cape Town-based street artist Flower in Water creates masked characters that stand as a metaphor for the culture of disconnection in a contemporary capitalist society. We chatted to him about the local scene and how he started graffitiing.

The meaning behind the name

“I chose this name because I see it as a poem.“

The flower is disconnected when it is picked and put in water for superficial and selfish reasons. It looks beautiful short term but dies, similarly, we are disconnected and focused on short-term gratification but our true peace and happiness come from our connection to each other and the planet.

Artistic journey and life as an artist

Flower in Water has always been interested in fantasy and storytelling, and has made art in various mediums with an interest in painting, collage and filmmaking.

“I grew up in Makhanda, a small town in the Eastern Cape. There wasn’t much of a Graffiti scene there in terms of local artists actively painting, but there were many artists who passed through during the national arts festival from cities around the country, so these works would interest me, especially the ones found in between and abandoned spaces. In my late teens, I started experimenting with spray paint myself. During my time studying I met Ora 4 and BODA from Durban and Cape Town respectively, who I ended up going painting with and learning from. I studied fine art and have been interested throughout my career in the intersections between what is regarded as fine art and street art/ graffiti.“

Mystical characters

“The characters I paint exist in tension between the alien masks/ goggles that they wear and their humanity underneath. The masks usually have a diamond embedded in their foreheads and I see them as being a metaphor for the culture of disconnection we find ourselves in contemporary capitalist society.“

Flower in Water

“The humanity of the characters underneath is our connection to each other and nature. I see it as a metaphor for how profit-driven colonial society is in direct opposition to the harmony indigenous cultures lived with the environment.“

Influence on style through the years

Flower in Water has always been drawn to fantasy and magic realist or sci-fi art that is rooted in a social critique of our world.

“I am still growing and drawing influences from different people, places, mediums and genres. Here are some that come to mind when I think of influences: Growing up, the fantasy novels of Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels, the manga Tekkonkinreet, the writing of bell hooks, Zadie Smith. Music from all over, in particular Ras G, Digital Mystiks, Burial, Dakim, Actress, B00n, Missy Elliot, M’du. Some of the visual Artists that have inspired me: David Siqueiros, Criptadjan, Eneri, Saute, Osgemeos, Mode 2, Kase 2, Enivo, Mak one, Ice 7, Faith 47, Buffy, Psalm, Drone, Julie Nxadi, Blk Banaana, Gogga, Seth 1, Boda, Homer, Iwe, Conform, Breeze Yoko, Link 0ne, Zombie, Asemahle Nhlonti, Igshaan Adams.“

The common misconceptions about street art in SA

“This question reminds me of a book I saw yesterday from the library about the history of South African public murals. It was published I think around 2000. In it, the only reference to South African Graffiti describes it as “gang affiliated” from the Cape Flats. This is problematic and erases the history of public art rooted in hip-hop and resistance culture that gave birth to the local graffiti mural scene.“

Flower in Water

“I am seen by some as a street artist but must acknowledge that my inspiration and influences have been largely Graffiti artists from the Cape Flats. Artists like Gogga, Seth 1 and Drone use a lot of fantasy elements in their work transforming spaces with their unique style and leaving art that inspires and transports the viewer to other worlds. Gentrified art in this city is for the most part cheesy as it lacks the edge that independent artists can freely articulate. large commissions sit hand in hand with the ongoing occupation of land and spatial divisions enforced along economic lines.“

Other art styles

Flower in Water works across different mediums: on canvases, in performance, in video/film, photography, collage, and writes and enjoy printing on clothing, too. “I see the city space as an extensive canvas where people communicate.“

Flower in Water is happiest when…

“Painting outdoors with my friends.“

A typical working day

“On a regular day, I am at work – I work as a high school art teacher. It is something I am truly blessed to do as young people are inspiring and view the world with fresh optimism and humour. I appreciate being in the art studio space as I am surrounded by creativity. On a typical weekend, I link with artists I usually collaborate with and we coordinate finding a spot and how to safely execute our designs. For the most part, I enjoy freestyling the work I do and so the environment usually influences what I end up producing.“

Describe your work in three words:

“Sci-fi, magical realist, fantasy.“

Does your art evoke a sense of social commentary?

“I feel it does. I speak about our alienation from the environment and each other and the power of our humanity to overcome this through our core connection to each other and nature.“

Future plans

“I hope to keep teaching but more in a workshop and collaborative sense so that I can travel and create large-scale murals in different cities both locally and internationally.“

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