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I Want To Show The World These Different Parts of Me | Q&A with Mfundo Mthiyane

Born in Durban, Mfundo Mthiyane first worked as a designer at a number of studios and advertising agencies in Johannesburg before turning to art. Working mainly in portraiture, his current work shows stylish young people in various contemporary settings: glued to their iPhones, set against a city skyline or eating fast food in the case of I’m hating it (2021) on show at Hallmark House in Johannesburg as part of Studio Nxumalo’s The Oasis exhibition. Mfundo explains his practice as making a record of the times he lives in. 

Mfundo Mthiyane, I'm hating it, 2021, Oil on canvas. 

Two more of Mfundo’s portraits are part of Invictus NFT Lab’s Out of Africa collection being auctioned as NFTs. They show a departure in style with looser, more expressive marks and less finer detail. Titled The Famous Person I and The Gaze they are part of a series of five paintings created during a three month SAFFCA Residency in Knysna last year. The aim of the residency was to explore different techniques and Mfundo chose to work with a palette knife and oil paint. “It pushed me to focus less on the subject represented and to treat the tools I was using to create the artworks as the subject,” he says. 

The more experimental works hint at what might come. “I am a versatile artist,” Mfundo says. “I don’t fit into a box. I can’t do one thing for a long time or I get bored. I just want to show the world these different parts of me through my work. This is just the beginning and I don’t want to announce my future plans just yet.” 

Mfundo Mthiyane, The Famous Person I, 2021, Oil on canvas. 

Mfundo Mthiyane, The Gaze, 2021, Oil on canvas. 

We asked Mfundo about what goes into his art. 

Does your background in advertising/design inform your art practice?

Yes, it does play a big role. It enhanced my visual language in terms of composing an image.

Where do your ideas for new works come from?

When I start painting I usually have the first hour of deep work with no music and no phone, just painting, and that’s where sometimes ideas come to my mind. I always write them down on paper pasted to the wall so that I can always see them. I also get ideas when I am reading, listening to music and when I am having conversations with people.

Who are the people you generally paint?

I usually use people I know personally as models or myself though it’s not always a portrait of them, they’ll be acting a part in the painting.

Do you take photographs of them first? Please describe your process:

Depending on the idea for the painting, sometimes I’ll ask someone to pose for me or I’ll pose for a photograph myself then I set up a scene using Photoshop with the images I’ve taken with a camera. I’ll move the images around in Photoshop until I’m happy with the composition and then I start painting.

What do you enjoy about portraiture? 

I enjoy painting faces because I see them as an empty canvas. As human beings we paint ourselves metaphorically, meaning the thoughts we are always occupied by in our minds somehow mold how we look and the face becomes this canvas of these different expressions of our thoughts.

Mfundo Mthiyane, The Essence, 2021, Oil on canvas. 

Mfundo Mthiyane, Hair beauty, 2020, Oil on canvas. 

Please tell me the symbolism of the doves in some of your works, and the yellow backgrounds in others? 

The dove appears mostly in the series called “In search of the miraculous”. The doves in this body of work are an embodiment of God and they also represent the force or energy of peace, love and harmony. The yellow background was inspired by one of Rembrandt’s paintings titled “Self-Portrait” done in 1660. In this painting he is holding a palette with brushes.

In your work, the subjects’ clothing and technology suggests they’re contemporary - why do you paint people specific to this era?

The paintings are a documentation of my current experiences, and my surroundings, and with that I have to capture the time that I am living in with the present fashion and technology.

Mfundo Mthiyane, Social Distancing, 2021, Oil on canvas. 

What was your first impression of NFTs and has this changed?

At first I was like: “I am a traditionalist, I still prefer tangible things.” But now I’m slowly trying to get acquainted.

As an artist, what interests you about NFTs?

I like the fact that you can earn royalties, and also that you can actually make money as an artist without relying on a gallery to show your work.

Mfundo Mthiyane, Voodoo in my brain, 2020, Oil on canvas.

Mfundo Mthiyane is associated with curatorial and artist management studio Studio Nxumalo

Further Reading In Articles

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