Andy Warhol used to draw shoes in his early creative days and went on to mark an important spot on the cultural timeline – he became a pop art legend. Just like Warhol, Cape Town based artist/illustrator Atang Tshikare claims that he ‘used to have a shoe obsession’, which first led him to draw and then to customize sneakers. John Norman decided to investigate Tshikare’s potential through speaking to him about his inspirations, his creative platform called Zabalazaa and his custom bicycles for social upliftment.
What inspires you?
Everyday things… Walking around town and seeing people hanging together – all of them unique. Or I will see something in the middle of the woods; there is always something random that catches my eye as an artist, it doesn’t have to be anything particular for me.
What is the inspiration behind your illustrations?
I used to have a shoe obsession – or whatever you would call it – and I ended up drawing (sneakers), which lead to customizing them. It depends on what subject it is I am drawing; I like a lot of things that I don’t see every day and things that are inspiring, such as colours.
What drove you into illustration?
My dad… And, as a kid, when my mum took me to school she advised me to pursue graphic design… it came out naturally.
Was there ever a real-life situation that you experienced where you remember wanting to record it on paper, but not having any material on you at the time?
There is something that I still want to put on paper called the Witch’s Back Garden. It is this story I created about a kid whose parents could not afford anything. The kid was slowly going deaf and was mistreated by everybody. The kid grew up and her experiences made her a better person, she turned negatives into positives. That’s what I am all about.
What message do you aim at conveying with your work?
For me it is really about having fun. If you look at my previous exhibition you will realize that the content is dark with a funny element included.
People just need to enjoy life a bit more.
So, you enjoy putting a smile on people’s faces?
It needs to be real and relevant, of course.
Who is Harry Banana?
He is a friend of mine, one of the characters I created. He has his bike, shoes for his girlfriend (who goes with the bike). Harry is an inspiration of how things can be customized and what can be made out of one element.
What is Zabalazaa.com?
It’s a lot of things. ‘Zabalaza’ means ‘to hustle’, mine is spelled differently – it’s about art, so I added an extra ‘a’. It’s something I created to give people a platform, I see people creating stuff but they don’t know where to showcase it, it’s basically a creative solution for individuals.
Besides illustration, what other activities are you involved with?
I have been customizing bicycles for about a year or more now, and right now I am involved with an association called BEN (Bicycle Empowerment Network). They get people to fix bicycles etc. – for example they will take bicycles and give them to kids who are living in rural areas to go to school.
Would you consider your type of illustration to be unique?
There are a lot of different types of illustration.
I’m trying to get into infographics, where you actually understand something a little better; it can show people about life or any other topic you feel like showing.
What’s next for Atang?
There is quite a lot, I’m always evolving. There is an exhibition I have just been a part of at the San Remo guesthouse in Cape Town. It used to be a crack house. (The exhibition – the San Remo Group Show – featured various other artists which you can see here).
What can we expect?
Something different. A lot of people know ‘Zabalazaa’, and then there is me, Atang (the individual). I’ll be showing both. One side is more serious, the other side more playful. It’s gonna be mostly portraits of African individuals who made a big positive change in the world such as the legendary Patrice Lumumba and many other ones.
Do you use a lot of colours?
Yeah, colours make people happy.
Do you have a favourite colour?
Wow man, at the top of my head! Black, it can go into anything.
Are you very selective about where to expose your work?
I kind of am,
the more work you do the more serious you have to be about it, in order to be, in turn, taken seriously.
What question would you like me to ask you?
‘Why do I work so hard?’
What would the answer be?
That it seems as if I was avoiding people, but the reality is simply that I just enjoy what I do so much.
Interview by John Norman
Images by John Norman