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Text: Elizabeth Donaldson. Photographs: Peter Whitfield. Article from the August 2012 issue of Garden and Home Magazine.
Jo’burg’s Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi has turned recycling into an art form that’s taken the world by storm.
Mbongeni Buthelezi’s studio in downtown Jo’burg with its massive artworks and pile of multicoloured pieces of plastic (mostly the kind of packaging you’ll find around six-packs of fizzy drinks) is visually intriguing. “I’ve always looked at my studio as my second home; it’s a creative space where I generate ideas for my work.”
Mbongeni’s ‘chosen’ medium is something he turned to out of pure necessity. “As a young artist studying at the Funda Centre in Soweto, there wasn’t enough money for transport and food let alone expensive paints and canvases,” he recalls. “I improvised and collected plastic on my way to college and back home and experimented.”
He creates his artworks by melting strips of plastic onto his canvas using a heat gun. In the process, a liquid is formed which he manipulates onto the canvas. The effect is like heavy oil, applied using a palette knife which offers added dimension and relief. He draws and paints, and creates images in colour, sepia and monochrome, like the gigantic piece he created for the DaVinci Hotel in Sandton for which he has earned enormous respect.
“I have been doing this for nearly 20 years,” he explains, “and I have developed as many different ways of expressing myself with this material. I find working with plastic fascinating and extremely exciting because of the intensity of the bright colours, and the flexibility of the material when it’s heated.”
But working with plastic is not without its challenges, as Mbongeni points out: “I have no point of reference for my work, especially on the technical side. Fortunately it’s something I’ve always enjoyed and as there are no rules, there are no limits. I can develop and grow in whatever direction I want with this art form.
“My inspiration comes from my everyday experiences based on what I see, touch and smell, as well as from the people I meet. I’ve been trying to find a suitable term to describe my work. I think ‘Expressionism’ seems to be closest.”
Mbongeni Richman Buthelezi
082 833 0164 or mbongenibuthelezi.com
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