A magical mix of passion and creativity

Simphiwe Mbunyaza and one of decorative pots.

From his studio in Wallacedene, Simphiwe Mbunyaza, 27, creates magic. A colourful array of truly beautiful pots, fist-sized vessels and large urns fill the shelves and stand on the work table, ready to be glazed in the kiln and converted to the finished work of art.

They are perfectly formed and, in evidence is the fact that each work took hours, often long days and nights to get to their stage of near-completion.

The young man’s peaceful studio belies the activity that goes on outside in the narrow streets and lanes, many flooded from the recent rains, as I visit on Youth Day, last Thursday June 16.

Mr Mbunyaza is a relative newcomer to the neighbourhood, having only been there for a year, where he came from Butterworth in the Eastern Cape.

But despite his tender years, he is no newcomer to the art of creativity; he has been creating art forms for the last 15 years and he started doing ceramics in 2010.

A diploma in Fine Art from Walter Sisulu University in East London convinced him (as if it were necessary) that he was on the right path. And just a few weeks ago he was invited to exhibit 15 of his finest pieces at a gallery in Vallauris, France, putting him, as his alma mater so aptly words it on the artist’s Facebook page, “on the cusp of greatness”.

Casting my eyes around the studio, it’s inspirational to see how the traditional gets interpreted into a contemporary, gracious form.

“I take my inspiration from traditional African symbols seen in Xhosa and Ndebele groups for example. They have a good sense of creativity and it gets transferred into my work.”

To this end, his work, primarily decorative pots be they small or large, makes use of many geometric or curved designs, carved into the clay and are then coloured with a glaze. A pot that takes on the form of a calabash has an eye-catching jagged mouth. “It’s like when the fermenting sour milk will explode in the calabash breaking the opening,” he smiles, as he talks about his inspiration.

He uses a rust colour frequently which comes from the Xhosa traditional use of imbhola – the ochre-coloured facial paint or smear used in rituals, which Mr Mbunyaza makes with a mix of copper oxide to colour some of his work.

An interesting, if not key factor in his work, is that he does not use a potter’s wheel but rather coils, which he fashions into his shapes.

“Yes, I use my hands – it gives me more of the ability to improve my creativity. It’s amazing to create like that and I firmly believe that creativity should come naturally,” he says.

Social networking has played an extremely important role in promoting himself and his work and it’s how he was spotted and subsequently chosen to exhibit his work.

“Nomaza Coupez, a South African living in France, of the group Undiscovered Canvas, saw my work on the internet and she was quite interested. She contacted me as she uses her agency to offer artists exposure overseas,” he relates.

“She asked me to submit a portfolio and the gallery loved my work,” he adds, referring to the Galerie Irene Hamilton in Vallauris.

Located on the Cote d’Azur, it was made made famous by Pablo Picasso who lived there from 1948, creating some of his most impressive works there and he also promoted pottery for which the town is renowned today.

Mr Mbunyaza is excited as he says there’s also another exhibition on the cards for him in London later this year; one in Johannesburg and his smaller pinch pots are on display at a gallery in Franschhoek. He has also lectured and exhibited at the Imibala Gallery in Somerset West, among others.

“But I have stopped lecturing and decided to dedicate myself full-time to ceramics,” he says.

Full-time is an appropriate description for his passion and all-encompassing work. He says he spends most of his time in his studio, taking time off just to work out at the gym or listen to music and occasionally socialise with family. A Facebook entry, one of many which describes his incredible dedication and fascination to his art, reads: “When you carve until your fingers develop blisters but still you don’t stop until you finish.”