Rising Star: Terence Maluleke

COMPILED BY Phendu Kuta PHOTOS Paul Shiakallis for Wanda Lephoto (Portrait), Hayden Phipps/Southern Guild

Through stylised portraits and still lifes, fine artist Terence Maluleke artfully depicts life, community and the human body.

Johannesburg-based Terence Maluleke’s journey into painting wasn’t a direct one, coming after he first established himself as a gifted visual developer for prominent animation studios such as Walt Disney and Triggerfish. But luckily for Terence and his growing fanbase, his foray into the world of fine art has been a roaring success – it even led to a solo exhibition at Southern Guild in Cape Town in October/November 2023. Titled “Grace in Grand-Bassam”, the show is a vivid reflection of a month-long residency at La Fourchette de Rōze in the coastal town of Grand-Bassam on the outskirts of Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire. In a series of large-scale paintings depicting the local community, Terence focuses on the human body, showcasing the angular movements of dancing figures, synchronised soccer players, and a detailed portrayal of a man in prayer. Throughout these scenes, a recurring symbol is the jelly sandal known locally as lêkê – a unifying element that transcends age, gender and social status.

Here, Terence shares his creative process and inspiration – and his love for good cowboy boots.

My creative approach is deeply rooted in observation, research and refinement through repetition. My figurative works intend to capture the subject’s subtle feelings, which are more often felt rather than seen. Much of the process involves observing my surroundings very closely to find interesting forms and rich colours, as well as feelings and textures. Then I pick up my iPad or sketchbook, whichever is closest. I start to combine the various elements and sensations to eventually find what feels most authentic. I believe that beautiful things come from trying… and trying again.

My artistic philosophy is evolving constantly, but I have a longstanding relationship with repetition. The more I repeat a subject or a technique, the more I understand its true essence. The act of repetition really elevates my technical skill and enriches my internal visual library. My approach also relies on observing a subject from many angles. This allows me to uncover the subject’s multifaceted nature, poignantly echoing the sentiment that every situation can be viewed from many perspectives.

Acrylic on canvas is my preferred medium. I also work digitally, which is rooted in my background in animation. Creating digital works offers me the freedom to explore ideas without the pressure of permanence.

✖ I create works that are conceptually driven by what truly interests me. This will always hold more significance than meeting the external demands of what’s deemed “commercially viable”. What currently interests me also seemingly resonates with the world, so it’s a win-win.

My work doesn’t consciously seek to fill cultural or identity roles. My practice reflects my ideas, free from overarching narratives or representational burdens. I’m just a guy making art and finding meaning along the way – but I’m a person with context, so a narrative inevitably makes its way into the work anyway.

There are three recurring symbols in my current work: the calla lily, the lêkê shoe, and Jesus’ Crown of Thorns. I’ll only unpack the lily today. It’s a symbol of empathy. I explore it in various geometric shapes and colour variations; in fact, the lily’s delicate folds hold particular significance. Like a paper plane, the folds represent wings that are bent, but not broken. This serves as a personal reminder that one day you will fly – or, in this case, blossom.

Singling out a favourite work of mine is challenging. Rather, I find that specific vignettes within a painting often become particularly captivating to me. There are moments within my works where the colours are layered and feel reminiscent of printmaking, when the register of the print is slightly off so it exposes an imperfect lining of the print. Yeah, I dig that.

I recently had to direct an animated short for Disney called “Hatima”, as part of the Afrofuturist animated anthology series Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire. At the same time, I was trying to nurture my fine art career. Daylight hours were reserved for the film, and nights were spent on my art. I never want to rush the art-making process. I want to ensure I have enough time to produce work that I’m genuinely proud of, and that I resonate with deeply.

Lately, I’ve been drawn to the work of visual artist Sinalo Ngcaba. Her art exudes a vibrant expressiveness that’s reminiscent of vintage African party posters. The confidence in her colour choices really resonates with me.

If money wasn’t a consideration, I would buy Henry Taylor’s “Elan Supreme”, and the elusive “Cherub Playing a Lute” by Rosso Fiorentino.

Côte d’Ivoire remains my top destination for creative inspiration. For art appreciation, Italy stands unparalleled.

I enjoy working in a square format, which comes from the influence of the Instagram grid. I’m also into cowboy boots – I hope that never changes, but let’s see!

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