BEST OF ISSUE ONE: Delving into the fantastical world of this boundary-blurring creator of wondrous objects

Atang Tshikare is an enigma. Not because he’s cagey or cryptic — in fact, the chatty South African artist eschews the archetypal persona that goes along with his profession in favour of one of unfastened openness. No, Tshikare’s mystery lies in never knowing what he’ll get into next. His boundless creative energy — which could be mistaken for childlike wonder if the results didn’t suggest such a ruminative thought process — takes shape across myriad mediums, from ceramics to furniture to sculpture.

Tshikare started out drawing, following in his father, famed political cartoonist Mogorosi Motshumi’s footsteps. “My dad has been an influence on me but I didn’t want to do politics because I saw what it did to him with Apartheid,” says Tshikare, referring to his father’s brief imprisonment, which took him from the family home. “I was an adventurous type of person. I used to watch cartoons in the morning and wonder about things that weren’t really there. I would make up my own stuff because it’s always easier and better to live in a fantasy than face the crap that’s around you. I love imagining; seeing something new and different.”

“My work has a personal essence. I give it a feeling first, and I then I think about the secondary thing like the fact that it’s a chair”

And for several years that’s exactly what Tshikare did. Working at a studio called Zabalazaa Designs, he collaborated across disciplines to add his illustrations to wallpaper, textiles and sneakers. “Drawing on surfaces was always a passion, but around 2015 I realised I wanted to make stuff myself,” he recalls. “I told my gallery and they hooked me up with [design studio and foundry] Bronze Age, who showed me how to make a sculpture.” Like seemingly everything Tshikare does, he went at the opportunity ready to learn but armed with his own vision.

The upshot was on full display at DesignMiami/ 2016, as part of Southern Guild’s showcase. “I never thought it would take off and be a massive thing,” says Tshikare, who acquired the skill to sculpt mostly for the satisfaction of being able to take his flat narrative drawings and give them three-dimensional scope. But his bronze, life-sized zoomorphic creatures, which toe the line between furniture and sculpture, became a focal point of the fair and catapulted this creative polymath into a new artistic category.

His prowess for large-scale works quickly garnered attention back home. Renowned South African interiors firm OKHA tapped Tshikare to collaborate on a three-piece, limited-edition furniture collection. Truly working together, they abandoned the brand’s minimalist style to create a range that translates mythical concepts into tangible objects. “OKHA showed me what they were interested in and I said, ‘I can do that, but this is what I want to do,’” he recalls. “I showed them my designs and they liked the ideas because I had a story to tell. As a business they wanted a product, a table with four legs and a flat surface. But what I did with them was something more artistic. If you look at ‘Metsing’, the table, there are three pieces of glass not exactly the same shape, and it looks South African and good quality, but done by a person, not a machine,” he explains. “My work has a personal essence. I give it a feeling first, and I then I think about the secondary thing like the fact that it’s a chair.”

His most recent design piece, ‘Legae’, resonates on many levels. Resembling two figures embracing each other, as well as the human heart organ, its biomorphic form also takes its cues from the vernacular architecture of the Nguni and Songhai people. “This sculpture is sensual and specially made to be touched, so feel free to move your hands softly across its body, and rub the black wood extensions.”

Does Tshikare consider how his own role as a black artist, originally from Bloemfontein, plays a part in attracting the art and design worlds to his aesthetic? “The exotic part, I use that, I kind of trap people with it,” he says. “I take their perception of what they imagine a black artist or a South African artist to be and throw them out the window so they don’t know what to think — except that they really love what they see.”

But true to his nature, Tshikare also ponders the term that defines him. “Each time I work it informs a whole world that I’m projecting,” he says of his larger plans, which span from making hats with craftspeople in Lesotho to creating artworks that would be accessible to people with autism. “So it’s easiest to say creator, because even when you say multidisciplinary designer, you’re still saying design. And then there’s artist, because I’ve done paintings and I do drawings, so then where does it go? It gets hella confusing for people. I think the word that I’ll stick with is creator.” And we’ll stick with him, too, wherever his adventures take us.

This feature was originally published in issue one of Nataal magazine. To discover more, and buy a copy, click here

Photography Kope Figgins, Pete Maltbie for Okha, Hayden Phipps for Southern Guild

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Published on 27/12/2018