Straight outta Butterworth, South Africa, son of the Eastern Cape soil, Loyiso Mkize is in total control. “Good things come to those who work while they wait” is his mantra. For the past six years, the artist has told uniquely African stories by applying oils and acrylics to 2.2 by 1.7 square meter canvas. In his spare time, Mkize gave birth to Kwezi, one of South Africa’s first comic book superheroes, all with the idea of retaining control of his vision and art to tell uniquely African stories. EBONY.com caught up with him on the eve of the recent FNB Joburg Art Fair.
EBONY: You were widely known in South Africa as an illustrator for the Sunday Times Striker comic strip that circulated to millions of readers in over 13 countries. How did you get into painting?
Loyiso Mkize: In 2008, I began painting my then girlfriend who is now my wife. Friends suggested that I should get into painting, and I put my first oil painting up in a gallery in 2010 and it sold. Things sort of fell into place in a nice natural way. All I had to do was paint. People are always like, “where has this guy been?” and I’m like, I’m here doing the work. My first solo show was in 2011.
EBONY: You are at the helm of what could become the next Marvel. What is important to you at this point?
LM: There’s a lot I want to happen with Kwezi and I can’t wait for people to see it. You can follow him on Twitter @KWEZI_Flyboy. I just put together a team of guys to test the look and feel and the mechanics of how the animation will work. We are still self-published. For me to be at the helm of that type of endeavor is quite a big deal.
I still want to keep control. I love the control of my work and how it gets out there. I want to see the requirements, the business model, the necessities that one can develop of one being self-published on a large scale. South Africa doesn’t have a comic book industry and therefore we can develop it from the ground up. You can actually activate the market with something new. That’s why I’m so passionate about it.
EBONY: You’re all set to be the South African Black Dynamite.
LM: Oh yeah, and The Boondocks. I haven’t approached [Cartoon Network], but now might be a good time to try.
EBONY: What are you working on now?
LM: I’m currently preparing for my fourth solo exhibition in Johannesburg at the Eyethu (OUR) Gallery in Soweto. The pieces will be there and as well at the Johannesburg Art Fair.
EBONY: What are the styles or concepts in your current work?
LM: There are different aspects of my work. There’s the surrealists pieces with the exploding stories around their heads, there’s the portrait pieces, there’s the figure paintings. Every year I’m challenging myself so that I don’t become complacent.
EBONY: Is there a relevance or procedure to your process that sets you apart in terms of your technique?
LM: Painting is a necessary storytelling medium. When it comes to technique and application, it’s not my preoccupation. My purpose is to tell the story and communicate the sentiment, not the nitty gritty of textures or spatial composition. That is second in consideration.
EBONY: The Internet has given birth to many stars. How has the digital medium enhanced your work?
LM: The online aspect of exhibiting and sharing art began to show its worth in terms of my being able to sell. My works currently go for $800 to $5,000, not including shipping. I like the idea of controlling how my work gets out there, everything from the commissions to the production to the presentation of my work. From that developed a private sale business exhibiting my work online and galleries that I chose.
EBONY: In terms of painters, who are your inspirations?
LM: Each piece can have some connection to art history in terms of your Rembrandts or the Impressionists and that sort of factor. But I live in a context where I live in Africa and have developed a huge love for the continent and have developed a responsibility for telling our stories in a different way in a way that I deem fit. I find a consistency with other contemporary artists in that regard. Artists who tell stories, our African stories.
I have my contemporary favorites. I’m inspired by the work of Kehinde Wiley, Kaya Witbooi, Ayanda Mabulu. It’s the drive that I’m attracted to in their work, the radical presence in their art and the life that informs their art. I find consistency with artists who have the overarching sentiment I’m seeing with African artists who are taking back our identities, redefining our identities. These are very exciting times as we are currently enjoying a renaissance of sorts in that regard.
EBONY: When you create, how does music factor in?
LM: The music I listen to is very specific to the artwork I’m painting. My work has soul. I listen to a lot of soul music: afro jazz, Afrobeat. Last night, I was listening to Simphiwe Dana. All of these works will have a soundtrack if you will that colors or puts ambiance or atmosphere added to the artwork. I always listen to music; it is literally a tool for me in creating.
EBONY: Your work has garnered the attention of Hollywood. How did that come about?
LM: Again, the Internet is amazing. I was recently commissioned to do nine pieces for an action film featuring Morgan Freeman and Olga Kurylenko, directed by Stephen Campanellie. My work plays a role where blood splatters across the painting and adds symbolism to the film. I’m finalizing doing a CD cover for South African house DJs, Revolution. It’s all from doing the work.
EBONY: How do you juggle being a comic book illustrator and a fine artist?
LM: As a visual artist I’m juggling two personalities, there’s a duality. I’m a fine artist and at the same time I’m a comic book artist in one package. It’s a fun and creative experience. Both resonate with each other. If you look closely you’ll see the qualities in both works.
Suede has spent a decade between the America, South Africa and Tanzania creating content for print, TV, radio and digital media. His interests include photography, pop culture, social media and travel. Follow him on Twitter @iamsuede.