Khayalethu Witbooi was born and grew up in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. After matriculating in 1995, he did a college course in draughtsmanship and started working as an illustrator for an architectural firm while doing freelance work for The Cape Argus newspaper in Cape Town (court sketches, cartoons etc.) and later painting portraits for interested clients. In June 2010, he was selected to join the Good Hope Artist’s Studio programme where he was given a studio and the opportunity to paint full-time. LIVE caught up with him and it went as follows.
LIVE: What type of painting do you do?
Khayalethu: The painting I do is urban art. People often confuse it with collage painting which is something totally different. When you talk about collage painting, you use material that has already been existing and you just cut and paste. Urban art has less boundaries than collage painting because it is controlled in a certain way but urban art is things you see on the streets and your daily life experiences. I try to put up a story through a canvas with a mixture of many mediums.
LIVE: What were your influences growing up?
Khayalethu: From the place where I come from, you don’t find things you can relate to when you are younger except for the media so I would say my major influences was music, movies, music videos and stories on television. That was the only source of exposure as to what the outside world consisted of.
LIVE: Do you have any set of routine when you are beginning one of your art pieces?
Khayalethu: Yes, it all begins with laying out the canvas so that it looks like an already existing wall. It doesn’t happen by means of manipulation but is something that happens out of nature. It’s sort of like a wall weathered down and you can see it crumbling and becoming something that is interesting and my art pieces have many messages that come together to form one story and sometimes one message can be overshadowed or covered by other messages but that is part of the unity of the story behind art piece.
LIVE: What other medium of creativity would you pursue if you could not paint urban art?
Khayalethu: I find music very interesting, because of all the process of forming a song. It’s similar to what I do. In music, you get inspiration from the present and the past, take some samples from different artists, genres, and songs.
LIVE: Who are your favourite artists?
Khayalethu: I would say its Pablo Picasso, Asha Zero and the graffiti artists that paint on the streets.
LIVE: Which art piece is your favourite at the moment and why?
Khayalethu: I like my latest work; it’s called Migrant of attraction because it was influenced by what I was seeing happening in the world and I just had to portray it through art.
LIVE: Is there a difference in how your work is perceived versus the message you try to convey?
Khayalethu: Yes, people are very opinionated and they have their own perception about everything but I normally write about each piece that I do so that they can fully understand my message.
LIVE: Describe yourself in five words.
Khayalethu: I am a true artist.
LIVE: Any words of wisdom for the youth?
Khayalethu: I would like to tell the youth that there is no such thing as the “best”. There is a hard worker.
LIVE: Where can people view your work?
Khayalethu: I work in Greatmore Studios in Woodstock and I’m constantly exhibiting my work at World Art in Church Street.
LIVE: Are you involved in charity work?
Khayalethu: Yes, I helped Inkwenkwezi Youth Centre by painting the whole place with the youth. It was a great experience for me since the children and adults got together to assist me. It wasn’t strategically planned, it all happened by accident and everyone was feeling happy to be part of this amazing project.
LIVE: You are very passionate about human rights and freedom of expression. What was the turning point in your life, or experience that affected you and caused you to sit up and take notice and start doing urban art?
Khayalethu: The thing I like about urban art is that you can use many types of mediums and put everything together to say one message. it’s just like human rights, they involve everybody and my art is not only saying what is relevant to me but it is what is affecting us as a nation and humans as a whole.