Episode 55

Published on:

25th Jun 2021

Photo Realism: Part I

Part I of this two part interview with one of Botswana's most celebrated visual artists, Wilson Ngoni. Art lexical is a podcast where we talk art and art processes.


Wesley: [00:00:12] Hey greetings everybody, this is Wesley pepper here and you're tuning to my podcast Wesley Pepper’s art Lexica, which is brought to you by spudcaster and baobulb. Yeah. Thanks everybody for tuning in. To all my new and returning listeners. Hi, greetings everybody, um, welcome, you know, uh, we have another pretty cool episode lined up for you today.

[00:00:29] You know, it's going to be a double feature, a series, a, we talking to Wilson Ngoni uh, pretty much, um, unpack his entire art story. Um, but before I explain to you what today's episode, uh, a big shout out to last week, you know, camp Cleveland for coming through thanks, my brother, um, you know, all the best with his future travels and his book.

[00:00:49] Um, I'll definitely be keeping, uh, you know, tabs on his book and maybe potentially doing a giveaway on the show. So look forward to that. 

[00:00:56] Uh, and, um, The art giveaway 

[00:01:00] is still up for grabs. So definitely, you know, like subscribe and comment to this kind of, to this episode and, uh, yeah, you can win yourself, uh, original artwork done by yours truly.

[00:01:12] And, um, yeah. And then moving on to today's episode, like, uh, so Wilson's got quite a, 

[00:01:17] uh, 

[00:01:18] Yeah, he's got quite a huge story and it's well, I just couldn't go, you know, come back, put it all in one episode, it was just too, it was a, there was just too much. So I'm going to do this double, um, 

[00:01:29] this two part series and, um, today's in today's episode, we're gonna look at his.

[00:01:34] Um, well you know how his journey through art started in bots, um, how we interpreted the surroundings, um, and his technique. Um, as you know, he does this really cool photo realist, um, images of how he interacts with his subject mapped out chooses, um, You know how he chooses to act with the subject matter and out we produces the art, you know, we're going to be diving to that entire process.

[00:01:58] It's going to be really cool. Um, and we're going to end off with him talking about his book, which is where next week's episode will start or from where we will, um, Well, we'll look at this book, uh, the content publishing behind it and his legacy because he's doing some really exciting projects. So look forward to that guys.

[00:02:16] Um, I'll chat to use at the end of the episode, um, to give you more detail about next week's episode. So I hope you guys enjoy today. 

[00:02:23] And I'll chat to you after this.

[00:02:25] Spudcaster: [00:02:25] baobulb.org is a podcasting platform and a medium for storytelling. This podcast is also available on all the major podcasting apps, including Apple and Google podcasts, podcasts your life with baobulb.org.

[00:02:44] Wesley: [00:02:44] Alright man, Wilson Ngoni. Thanks for coming through my brother all the way from Botswana. Um, I've heard quite a bit and read quite a bit about you in this past few weeks, this past week, actually. Uh, so looking forward to talking to you today. So, um, before we get started, just tell me, like I know it’s very cold here in South Africa today, uh, this morning, how are you doing?

[00:03:05] Wilson: [00:03:05] I'm great, my brother and thank you so much Pepper for inviting me to have this talk with you. Uh, It is, it's such a great honour. Uh, and you know, it gives you, you give me so much energy. So, so my energy too, you know, 

[00:03:24] Wesley: [00:03:24] uh, thank you

[00:03:28] Wilson: [00:03:28] You know to be recognised as an artist it's, it's, it's, it's, it's a good thing sometimes, you know, we painting not for money, but, you know, uh, to make life better and you know, when we have people accepting our, uh, uh, intentions, It's great. You know, it shows that we are heading towards the proper direction. So I really, really appreciate this invitation.

[00:03:47] Wesley: [00:03:47]

[00:03:50] Thank you. Thank you so much. Wow. Uh, that's it. Uh, yeah, man. So, um, look here man, I'm looking at your work. Okay. Um, okay. Before we get to work. What I'm interested in, um, since it's your first time on the show, um, how did you get into the arts? And then so as you know, like what meeting what we do is a calling nobody really does this in the hopes of making money,

[00:04:17] it's a calling you either have it, or you don't, um, yeah, just give us, like, where did you start? When did you realize that you want to draw, uh, technical, uh, academic wise, the, an academic background and that type of thing. 

[00:04:37] Wilson: [00:04:37] Yeah. You know, uh, so you know, you, some of these things you start, uh, like, 

[00:04:42] Wesley: [00:04:42] okay, I'm listening,

[00:04:49] Wilson: [00:04:49] like playing and, you know, Next thing is it's a foundation. The next thing is this school. The next thing is it's a big field. You understand? Like, you know, when I was a young, um, I wanted to do, to be an author for other things because, um, uh, a lot of influence from home and from school. So I. You, you know, you get the pressure to become a doctor to become an engineer because sometimes you are good at it

[00:05:25] Sometimes you are good at mathematics. So, and you know, for me, like, yeah, we are going to be proud of him and, you know, neighbours, when I say, come in and say, you know, we, we he's going to help his mother is going to make his mother proud. He's going to be the doctor, but, you know, Uh, they, something is like deep down inside you that wants to come out.

[00:05:49] You know? Um, they, they got sun. But he's under the skin and people just see the limp in you, but they don't know the pain that you're feeling. And the underneath the, the, the, the, the key now, uh, it's, you know, you want to take out that thorn it's, you know, the pain of that thorn, you know? Um, it's you feel it.

[00:06:19] Um, so yeah. Uh, wait, wait, wait with me. I I say, uh, pepper. It's hard for me to say exactly. When did I start painting? Because painting is like a language it's hard for you to ask. If I were to ask you hey pepper, when did you start speaking? You can, but you can't remember when did you start speaking?

[00:06:40] Wesley: [00:06:40] I hear exactly what you’re saying

[00:06:45] Wilson: [00:06:45] So it's a language, you know, but now. At least we have a little bit of conscious life now, when did I become conscious of ? Yeah.

[00:07:00] Yeah. So. Yeah. About three decades ago. I'm over 30 years. I'm 42 going 43. This August. 

[00:07:11] Wesley: [00:07:11] Yeah me too.

[00:07:18] Wilson: [00:07:18] We have the generation.

[00:07:23] Now

[00:07:32] three, three decades ago, it became quite conscious. Uh, when I was roughly 10, 11, 12, you know, preaching, you know, and I, I had special, special movements, uh, with my hand. Uh, you know, so I, I, I started like taking it a bit serious, you know, because also people just to tell you a bit of my background, like, um, social a bit, uh, I, I, I was born in, in, in a quite dysfunctional family.

[00:08:08] Uh, well, it's not adequate. To, to, to, to break. Cause it's, it's quite common in our communities to have dysfunction. And you know, it's also quite common too, to have a families with poverty, you know, below poverty line. So, you know, when you come from that kind of, uh, background, you didn't need to wake up.

[00:08:33] Because, you know, if you suck your thumb and cry incessantly saying, Hey, I'm a victim of the system, I'm a victim of life circumstances. Uh, even, even Jesus Christ cannot come and help you people.

[00:08:55] Okay. You need to stand up, man, bruh. So, um, I. Yeah. Had to paint to survive. I had to paint because also like I, when I realised the poverty at my home, I knew that money was not invented for us. It was like money was invented for other people. But you know, I, I was not born. I did not invent life you understand Pepper.

[00:09:26] All I needed to come to, to create was a culture. So, you know, I met this culture of painting. I, I painted to try to create my own religion to try to create my own culture. And it was, uh, you see, I was born into life. All religions, all cultures. Are there already and still I I'm born and find nothing for me.

[00:09:57] What do you, do you continue grasping? What is there already and seeing it's not working, even for people who came before you, you really have to devise new methods for you to survive. Um, there's enough bread for everyone in the world Pepper, but you know, it's not available for everyone

[00:10:19] to invent, uh, means, uh, methods of attaining that bread. And for me, it became painting. You understand brush, strokes, Pepper, brush strokes, simple as that. So I started drawing because I didn't do primary school. So, you know, I was one of the people like on the streets and, you know, life was just like, it was not my time but through social workers and my mother and, um, Uh, the late, uh, administrators of, uh, my junior school helped me in the village, uh, help make them go back to school.

[00:11:01] You understand? So, uh, yeah, uh, uh, I, I started, uh, realising that, you know, Even though you are talented school is a place where you come and discover yourself again. It's like you be born again at school. So it's really, really imperative for our youth, for our people to go to school. You know, to have that kind of a little bit of guidance.

[00:11:33] So school guided me further into my, into my, into my talent, you know, into my art. You see, uh, around 1996, 97, 1997, uh, I was like serious now with water colours and acrylics and, you know, auto auto auto paint because I could not afford paint. So, you know, you go to a nearby panelbeater, uh, company, you pick empty tins so that, you know, yes.

[00:11:58] Take the little bit of pain that 

[00:12:00] Wesley: [00:12:00] is left. 

[00:12:02] Wilson: [00:12:02] Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh, and you know, you experiment sometimes Pepper, you don't even afford even a single tube of paint because 96, 97, you know, you end up coming a young person, you know, you fall, you have no market for your paintings. No one recognises art.

[00:12:22] Um, at the same time, you know, it beats one’s mind Pepper to realize that, you know, I'd studied in Africa, but art is not recognised in Africa, how does where's sanity there Pepper? 

[00:12:40] Wesley: [00:12:40] Yeah, no, I, I deal with the same problem. Um, I deal with the same problem, so I know what you say, 

[00:12:52] Wilson: [00:12:52] but it's, it's a thing that we live. I mean, paintings.

[00:12:57] Uh, it is form of art, our people pay, but they, uh, they decode it. How is it our hearts even like building traditional hats. It's an art in itself, you know, here we use  and we use, uh, uh, baskets. You understand? Yeah, all those, those craft paper, uh, cooking sticks, uh, poets, African clay pots, you know, ceramics, you know, beads this craft paper here and, you know, still we refuse to recognise them ourselves.

[00:13:42] So. 

[00:13:43] Wesley: [00:13:43] Yeah. I know exactly what you’re saying 

[00:13:45] Wilson: [00:13:45] Yeah. So now sometimes it takes, um, a new culture and new force to bring, uh, to the awareness of our people that, you know, we have these. And we need to celebrate what we have because, uh, the other mentors that were brought before us, like really, really waking for us. So, you know, even in that age, um, I felt, you know, I'm going to make a change.

[00:14:10] That's the reason why I pursued this career or my passion, uh, as an artist, despite a lot of challenges, a lot of pressure that was like put forth to, to, to stop me either at home, at school or with friends or in this society generally. So starting art, Pepper is not like, uh, starting painting. I hope, I think w w you needed to ask me, when did you start to resist?

[00:14:46] Wesley: [00:14:46] Okay. Okay. What I'm okay. I'm, I'm, I'm listening to you, very carefully you raising a bunch of points I actually want to tackle

[00:14:53] um, because I'm very interested in looking at. Firstly let me start with this. Let's say I understand what you say. Um, I understand how the, artists tend to be, um, I see how the artists looked at his surroundings conceptualized or rather made his groundings work for him, you know, you know, honestly, I think that's, I can actually have a series of episodes.

[00:15:22] I'm happy because I think artists have the tools or tools that, you know, versus everybody else know people work in offices. I just think we can, we can adapt. Uh, uh, to our surroundings quicker and better and harness it and we actually churn out beautiful work. So that's, uh, that's actually just something that I picked up that you said.

[00:15:42] Um, that was really cool. Uh, what, I'm, what I'm looking at your studio now and looking at your artwork. Um, I noticed a few, uh, trends, so I noticed you focus a lot on the black child. Okay. On the, on the African child. Uh, you do a lot of portraits. So I, um, uh, The portraits are very expressive, uh, they aren’t hungry, you know, they aren’t images of hungry children they actually look like they’ve got strong personalities, like, like the, uh, you know, knowledge of self.

[00:16:20] I see themes of that coming through. Uh, and it’s photo realism. Now there's, there's, there's something that I've noticed through Southern Africa. So a lot in Africa, there's a lot, there's this huge sort of migration towards photo realism, it’s really becoming quite popular,

[00:16:40] especially on social media. So that's actually something I wanna, I want to get to, talk about, um, can you just tell me about your subject matter? Like I'm very interested why you choose those images, how you handle them, you know, Uh, uh, um, and the, your, um, your techniques, are you using acrylics?

[00:16:58] Are you using oils, you know, using pastels. Yeah. 

[00:17:01] Wilson: [00:17:01] Uh, Pepper right now, you see with a lot of experiment and, you know, uh, three, three decades of staying on the brush. I felt that acrylic is dead paint. So I'm using oil, oil paints, uh, through and through and through, uh, because oil paint responds very, very well, especially with my light and my studio and with my ideas.

[00:17:25] So it really, really, uh, I have authority over it. And then

[00:17:37] mostly on canvas and regarding the subject of the black child, Africans, 

[00:17:51] Pepper, while I was growing, I was advised to migrate to Europe. Um, Still, you know, when I was under pressure, uh, to quit, to pursue the other fields, but, um, my family or my society thought that, you know,  success, uh, like, you know, you, you doing very, very well with academics and, uh, your teachers want you to pursue dreams that, you know, They failed to pursue themselves because they were not as good as you are academically.

[00:18:28] Uh, and they tried to get you into those directions. Your mom failed to be a doctor and she wants you to be a doctor. Um, uh, your brother wants you to, to, to, to be a teacher because he failed to be a teacher. So now when you pursue. Can I explain just a little bit, what art is, uh, 

[00:18:50] Wesley: [00:18:50] ja, please 

[00:18:52] Wilson: [00:18:52] For us artists who did not go to school to study art is not a promise.

[00:19:02] And yet it's a promise. Art is, uh, where you decide to become an artist. You are not promised any success. And do you know, it can be frustrating,

[00:19:18] you know, when you study the PhDs, the, the PhD, I don't mean the pull down syndrome. Um, pull them down,

[00:19:33] pull us down anyway, but.

[00:19:46] Um,

[00:19:49] When you pursue degrees you are promised uh, a job 

[00:19:52] and a salary, 

[00:19:55] but I'm here in the studio, but no one is promising me anything I'm not promised the promotion. Nothing? No, all I have are my brushes, my tubes like pigments and you know, the canvas and ideas. Now, when I say the promise is me always promising the world that, you know, I'll give something.

[00:20:15] Uh, but you know, the world is not promising anything. So the community see that, you know, you, there is no life they can see further than beyond the horizon. Like you would see beyond life. Like you will see, they try to stop. You. Because sometimes that that's stopping you because they don't want you to pursue art.

[00:20:41] It's like, because they feel bad. They want to see you in with, in a white collar, uh, having a white collar job and having a salary, um, that you can be able to take a loan. For instance, you know, my community will say, yeah, you need to get a job so that you can be able to take a loan and you know, you can blah, blah, blah, blah.

[00:21:05] And I went like my gut. I don't need nothing of that nature. I just need to paint. You know, I, I can’t take a loan to buy a brushes. I can take loan to take, to buy brushes and brushes are what matters to me. So, you know, you decided that, you know, it's me first. So now, uh, w w w w when they saw that you will get amongst the people, they decided to come around again to say, if you can't beat them, join them.

[00:21:45] Now because you know what you see finally, the world is quite envious. When you bring something, they don't understand this, they try to stop you. And when they see you happy and loving it, they start like joining in. So with my arts. Oh yeah. Yeah. Uh, and you know, that's my motto actually that that's my, my artistic philosophy.

[00:22:10] Um, that's, uh, The idea, the notion that governs my everyday life, that, you know, I, I paint to make humanity happier. So I hope to contribute to the general happiness of humanity with my paintings. So when they saw, saw this, they started like joining me and supporting me now, you know, and in that support, I felt that, you know, if I need this support, I need to allow the world, my community to lean against me.

[00:22:40] So this I give to my, my, my community and they leaning, I guess, on me, that's how we support each other. So I need to show. Uh, paintings that, you know, uh, resonate my connect, uh, that speak with, uh, with my community directly because language art is a language and in language is borrowed from your immediate environment.

[00:23:07] So, you know, uh, I needed to paint and I need to paint about my community. I need...

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Wesley Pepper's Art Lexica
This is a show where we talk art and art processes. It's typically an interview format, where we talk to different artists about their journey.

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