NETHERLANDS / SOUTH AFRICA: Breaking shapes with realism techniques – Muralist Duo Studio Zepa

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Some time ago we published your artwork in The Hague, which you created with RINGO and the duo SOGO on a long promenade wall on the beach. Several beautiful and colorful works were created in one connected wall painting, in the middle is the saying “Our Earth is fragile! Handle with care.” You wanted to convey a message about climate protection and sensitivity to our planet. Tell us more about this project and your collaboration artwork there.

This mural came about in collaboration with the council of Scheveningen in order to introduce Smart Technology to the boulevard on the beach. The council was introducing smart tech like sound and smoke detectors, new camera surveillance systems and robotic trash cans amongst other things. We wanted to represent the need to conserve the beach front in the art too, as Scheveningen is a popular tourist attraction in the summer, and the awareness is necessary in order to maintain it as such.

Before the work in The Hague, we already had another great work from you in the archive. It’s the colorful cat that you created at the Secret Garden of Nicholas Groente in Amsterdam. It turned out really cool! Tell us something about this work and about your painting session in the Secret Garden. This place is definitely a little creative paradise.

Brian from Nicholas Fruit and Groente and Chinny Bond have done an amazing job in creating The Secret Garden and promoting it. In our opinion it is as worthy of a visit as any of the tourist attractions in Amsterdam, certainly showcasing a unique setting and collection of works for Amsterdam. We based our work on the Cat and Mouse concept, depicting the two as integral though. This is symbolic of how graffiti/ street art/ urban art is an important part of any city, albeit often a love / hate scenario in a city like Amsterdam which tries hard to preserve its old aesthetic which represent the history of the city. Art is a representation of the times, and so is an integral part of society, as much as the art in museums is. One can however also interpret the meaning of the painting to have significance in daily life, for any one attempting to maintain and balance between rule abiding and having a little mischievous fun every and again, or how we need to follow the guidelines of society to be a part of it but at the same time be true to ourselves.

We now have to explain to the readers in more detail who you actually are. Because Studio Zepa is essentially a duo consisting of the two artists Zesta and Page33. So these will now be three questions. The first goes to Zesta: How did you start with graffiti and how did you start with art at all, tell us a few words about it.

Yes, StudioZEPA comprises of two artists. I started painting in graffiti in 2000/2001. My grandfather, Egon Guenther, moved to South Africa in the 1950’s where he started a print studio and one of the first African art galleries in South Africa. He worked with many artists including Eduardo Villa, Cecil Skotness and many more, which meant I was exposed to all this art from my earliest memories. As a child I was somewhat catatonic, or a bit introverted, and I began drawing and painting from a young age. I loved to draw, however when I found graffiti it just clicked! I focused on letters for many years, and still have loads of sketch pads to fullfill this exploration of styles. Painting on walls began to become more frequent, even an obsession, and soon letters alone were not enough. I wanted to combine characters and my pieces, which eventually progressed to exploring realism. I still love the techniques of graphic characters, line weighting and such, which is still present in our style today.


The next question is the same question to Page33. How was that for you? How did you start painting? How did you get into urban art and spray cans?

Even though both my parents were creative, art wasn’t seen as a responsible career in big parts of South Africa. When I turned 11 I told my parents that I wanted to take the risk and pursue my passion of being an artist. My parents tried to support me wholeheartedly. They worked hard to provide me with the means to go to an art school where I studied fine arts, fashion, music, and dance, which created amazing opportunities like painting a mural for Thabo Mbeki, the former president of South Africa by age 17. Growing up in Pretoria, a smaller town next to Johannesburg, I was only really exposed to Graffiti after my studies when I moved to Johannesburg to work at a famous Contemporary Art Gallery called Everard Read Gallery. This is where I met Zesta.  As my father passed away, I was finding it hard to create art. Zesta started inviting me to join him for some free, unpressured, adrenaline fun paint sessions on the streets. Introducing me to a whole new world, underground Graffiti of Johannesburg. Physically and mentally what I needed to start creating again. After painting recreational together for 12 years, every piece we create together inspires possibilities for future pieces.


And now let’s put it together, just like it happened with you. How did your two paths cross? How did you get to know each other and how did the idea of founding Studio Zepa together come about?

Page worked in The Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, the same gallery I visited many times to just sit and observe the art that was shown there. People that had worked with my grandfather worked there over the years, my cousin was working there at the time in fact, but I just loved going there on my own to be in the space and contemplate the artworks. One day I walked in and there Page was, and we hit it off immediately. Page had studied fine art, still created art and painted murals. So for me it was strange to see her sitting there selling other artist’s work when she had such potential. I had quite my day job a few years before to pursue my art full time and with the success I was experiencing at the time felt that if we teamed up we could achieve great things. She of course left, much to the owners discontent as she was really liked at the gallery, and we started creating commissioned murals and artworks in an agency formation. These years of taking on any and every request taught us both so much in terms of technique and exceeding our own expectations. The only problem was that South Africa had a relatively small community of street artists, that was primarily focused on graffiti. While we were doing quite well, we were also getting too comfortable. We realised that if we wanted to take our art to the next level we would need to make some sacrifices in order to contribute to and participate in a larger community. Page has an older sister that had moved to The Netherlands in the early 2000’s and so from 2017 we started visiting her with the idea of investigating whether relocating to The Netherlands could work as a home base to allow us to explore the European street art community. To put it in the simplest way, to paint at even more than one festival in the summer would involve to much time and money to do more than once in a Summer from South Africa.


Once we had officially relocated, we really focused on finally developing our artistic voice. There were many things we loved to do while painting, and our work was identifiable but we both felt we had not yet hit the mark. It is quite difficult to combine the graffiti, street art and fine art worlds into one style that still appeals to people living in the communities we work in. A couple more years passed of redesigning and refining, trying out new things. Eventually we decided to put a string, so to speak, through only to the techniques and concepts we were really passionate about, and pull only those out of all the exploration and experiences. Coming from South Africa, we felt a need to make art that represented community and people in unity, and the diversity of our homeland once dubbed the Rainbow Nation, so the vibrant colours had to stay. Soon after we had found this recipe that represented our journey and development we were painting at a graffiti jam in Hengelo and the organizer was standing behind us watching us paint and sort of blurted our “ ZEPA!” and from that moment we had found our name – StudioZEPA.


Since then we continue to explore our style, and continue to exceed our own expectations. Coming from South Africa, we once looked up to names in the community from a distance, and today work aside and have developed friendships with many of these artists which is a massive honour for us, we even painted a couple of canvases for STRAAT museum so it has honestly been milestone to milestone. Currently we are getting requests for our work from further and further out, this month we are working on a painting for a client in Dubai, so we are very excited to see how far we can spread our work and what the future holds for us.


There are many similarities in your art and you complement each other quite well. You both like to paint characters and portraits, and you also have similar techniques in color abstraction. So sometimes you just use other colors as usual and then simply paint the skin of a face in purple or turquoise in a pop-up style. Or you use fragmentations and break the motifs down into colorfully abstract puzzle pieces. Tell us more about what you paint and why you paint it that way.

This comes down to keeping true to ourselves and combining the different worlds that made up our artistic journey. Often the shapes of colour are inspired by movements made when creating graffiti pieces, and the colours are inspired by a fauvistic approach to breaking down the subtle undertones you find in real life that may be a result of refractive or reflective lighting for example. This combined with depicting people through all colours helps us represent the ideology that we are all people. We also try to break the rules and our own art by counter intuitively using colour in ways it should not make sense, which keeps producing interestingly fresh results. Combining this with realism techniques brings all these elements and different worlds together, and that is where we find the harmony in uplifting colour combinations.


You paint in all sizes, from small formats to huge building facades. What fascinates you about large murals and how is it like painting an entire house? How is it like to create an artwork in these dimensions?

The feeling of approaching a part of town and seeing a large-scale mural pop out of the landscape is hard to explain. The power it gives to the artwork when it is that size is hard to replicate in any other way. Plus, we love the challenge of working in the elements. By nature we are hard-working, and I think as an artist you tend to sacrifice time to create your art. This may sound strange, but we can spend 12 to 14 hours a day painting in wet and windy conditions and just totally thrive on the experience of pushing our limits.


Tell us a little more about the murals. What has been your greatest artwork so far? Ladders were not long enough and a crane had to be used for sure.

We eventually did our IPAF training so its good to know how to safely push the limits. We painted a mural in Enschede that was 8 or 9 flights, so around 27 meters tall. In that week, the wind force was 6 or 7 and there was a lot of rain, and the terrain was turning muddy. This was one of those experiences most people might opt for a warm studio or coffee shop but we loved it! That is also why it was important for us to do the training though, so we know when it honestly becomes too dangerous to work at certain heights or under certain conditions. Looking forward to painting more on this size soon though!


So far we only have works from you from the Netherlands. But you travel worldwide and create fantastic works in urban spaces around the globe. Tell us a little more about the places where others can find your artworks. Where are your creations located that should be seen?

Coincidentally we grew into our style here in Europe, despite almost two decades of painting in South Africa, although there are still some murals scattered across South Africa. For example in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, in the North West province and probably at more places. And there are also artworks in Mozambique. Last year we visited Cabo Verde, Austria and Belgium. This year we have a few more planned for Belgium as well as Germany and potentially Denmark, but we would love to revisit Vienna again soon, as well as Finland, France, Italy and The UK. That said we will go where the paint takes us and have a huge curiosity for America and Canada.


What about the works in a small space or within a room? So exhibitions and indoor projects? Do you do something like that too? Do you have art events and presentations of your works in galleries or other art venues?

Yes, of course we do plenty of projects like this. Currently we are working on a project for Heineken in Amsterdam that is an indoor painting and a collaboration with STRAAT Museum which is turning out to be a great project so far. This year our projects range from smaller indoor and outdoor projects and canvases to large scale outdoor murals which is normal. We are also working on canvases as we want to explore the gallery world more. We painted a 4m x 8m canvas for STRAAT Museum last year, and have requests coming in for paintings and prints but we are still looking for a gallery that we want to partner on a long term basis. We want to expand our collection on canvas this year and see where this takes us though.


You probably go to jams and graffiti events from time to time. Which events do you like and which ones were special for you? And which ones will you go to again?

This year is the last edition of Step in the Arena in Eindhoven, which is always a huge gathering of artists and a lot of fun so we are looking forward to that. There are some jams in Germany and The UK that we are interested in, but the commissioned artworks tend to stick around for longer, and we are currently working on projects in both of those countries. We would love to create an artwork for StreetArtMankind as their projects are designed to have social impact that often resonates with us and to explore the American landscape is something we have not yet found time for, which would be interesting too.


You are constantly active and one great project is following the next. What are your new ideas and plans for this year? Are there any special dates that we should make a note of and keep in mind?

That is a great question! As mentioned above we want to find a gallery that we feel a good connection with and grow our canvas based works. Currently we are working on a project with we both would love to paint in the states and even Mexico.


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Artist:  PAGE 33








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