Percy Maimela | Illustrator Interview | Drawing From Observation
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Interview: Percy Maimela

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Getting to Know Percy Maimela

In our latest blog, we cover an interview we had with the Guinness book of world records holder, Percy Maimela.

He lives and works in Johannesburg and is a self-taught artist. He took the world by storm with his salt art back in 2019. In his artworks, he explores social consciousness and beautifully highlights the social environment and addresses the issues by reminding us that we can incite change in our social environments.

In September 2019, Percy created artwork of DJ Black Coffee by using coffee as his medium of choice. Percy typically explores mediums such as salt, to create his art however, on this occasion he tried to create something a little different.

Venture with us on this journey as we explore the mind of a highly creative individual.

Q1. Tell DFO a little bit more about yourself

I grew up with a big family in a small town called Winterveldt, about 40km away from Pretoria. Ever since I can remember I’ve used drawing as my form of expression where I could explore concepts and ideas freely. As a child, I remember my friends would play soccer while I would sit and draw.

I was not into playing soccer as I found drawing to be a more stimulating experience. For me, it was the escape I needed and I’ve been cultivating that skill ever since.

Q2. How would you say your upbringing influenced your art?

In my artwork, I try and reflect on finding your inner self to become the best version of yourself. I’ve seen where I come from which is semi-rural, to make it out of there you need to find yourself. After finding yourself first, you can start building on that.

By having that experience I can create art that makes an impact on the viewer. As an artist, I’m aware that my art pieces will outlast a few generations, so my art needs to impact people and resonate with future generations too.

Q3. In 2014 you went viral for the art that you produced. How does it feel to finally get recognition for your work?

That was an exciting moment. I decided to do a salt art piece on Joe Mafela a famous South African actor, writer, producer and director. After his passing, I did a salt art piece at home to pay tribute to him and I then posted the piece online. After a day people got in touch with me to tell me my art went viral. Back in those days, I didn’t even know what going viral meant.

I remember going on to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and I was overwhelmed by the response I received online. The Joe Mafela art piece inspired several people who knew they were good artists but did not know they can go to such an extent where they push themselves.

After this, I decided to resign from my job as a merchandiser at the time to pursue art full time and my whole world changed. Where I’m from, there are not any successful artists so people started noticing me.

They used to see my work as a hobby and now they take it seriously. Last year I went to Dubai to make art and people were messaging me, very surprised asking me if I went to Dubai just to make an artwork.

Q4. How has the journey been since you resigned from your job to pursue art full time?

It has been exciting. One thing I realised on this journey so far is that you always grow and there is always something to learn. I believe people like complacency which causes a lot of problems in their lives, making them feel numb and as if they are not living. The industry has really opened my eyes and every day I get to learn something new.

I also realised that there are levels in the industry and although I don’t consider myself a beginner or a master, I learn and grow daily. Working as a merchandiser was exciting at first, but my heart was always set on producing art that inspires and resonates with people.

Q5. Percy please tell us more about the DJ Black coffee painting, what was the inspiration behind it?

In 2019 there was a company called BrainFarm and they had an event that Black Coffee was a part of. They wanted a unique way to stimulate engagement with the event so they commissioned me to do the live event, after following me and seeing what I do with salt art. At first, I was reluctant to do it but then I told them to give me a day so that I can think about the proposal.

I’ve always wanted to break a Guinness book of world records so I decided to go for it. Initially, I worked out that it would cost me up to six figures to do the record which was a lot of money. When BrainFarm approached me it was like a sign from God that it is time to pursue this record.

Partnering with BrainFarm was a great idea as it gave me the freedom to focus on what I’m good at and they take care of all the logistics so it just made sense to partner with them on this record.

Q6. Can you tell me a bit more about your creative process when it comes to producing salt art?

At first when I started creating salt art it was not permanent. I have been working with experts and scientists to make my art permanent and it took me about 6 years to come up with a solution. Over time, salt deteriorates which means eventually my art will fade away which was a problem at the start of my journey.

My creative process starts with a reference photo and then I will start sprinkling outlines with salt. In 2020 with the first 21-day lockdown I decided to lock myself in my studio to find a solution so that I can preserve my artworks. Luckily after many failures, I came up with a solution that works for me.

Part of the solution was mixing salt and sand which gives the art a detailed contrast, especially from far away. I normally have to tell people that the salt is mixed with sand because the detail is surprising when you see it for yourself.

Q7. What advice do you have for someone that is coming up in the art scene?

First of all, this is not an easy industry to work in. But I would say, anyone who has the dedication to their craft will eventually become successful. There will be times when you will get frustrated and face difficult times, but if you have a strong will and you have a goal in mind, you will overcome anything.

Q8. How important would you say business knowledge is in the art industry?

I would say business knowledge is very important but so is marketing knowledge. As an artist, you need to connect with your audience and part of that connection can for instance be formed on social media. If you look at it from a business perspective, the artwork is not that important.

Although it is your product, if you don’t know how to run a business you will certainly have a tough time. There are several elements in making your art a successful business such as production, sales, and management. I also believe spirituality forms a big part. You have to have faith in yourself and your journey.

Back in the day all I did was produce the art and someone else took care of the business side of things, like galleries etc. I’ve also noticed that there are only a select few galleries and a bunch of new artists entering the industry each year. If you are fresh in the scene but you handle yourself like a business, you are more likely to be taken seriously.

The galleries will see that you are a cut above the rest and who knows what can happen from there? I also think universities should offer artists courses such as business art management so that artists can learn the crucial elements upfront.

Q9. How do you constantly find inspiration for your artworks?

I will think about what it is I’m trying to tell through my art and then prepare a catalogue. Typically, I would create a figure in my head and I will start playing with the outlines and different shapes. The previous catalogue that I had was called little princes and conceptually she was walking around with her dice and a teddy bear.

Here I added the dice because it symbolises her taking risks, and the teddy bear symbolises comfort. In a way, I’m trying to tell the viewer that you cannot have comfort without taking risks.

Another interesting concept I’ve been working on since 2018 is interlinking my art collections with each other so subjects in historical pieces might feature again in future pieces.

Q10. How can people reach you?

The best way of getting a hold of me is through social media. My Instagram is Percy_maimela and my Twitter handle is exactly the same. I think the fastest way is to just Google Percy Maimela and one of my social media accounts will pop up.

Q11. Percy thanks for taking the time to chat with us. We wish you all the best in the future.

Thank you guys from your side. I’m excited to see the article and future content and I will be happy to share it on my side. Have a good day DFO.