SOUTH AFRICA: Cape Town Urban Artist, Designer, Illustrator and Character Creator – WAYNE BKS

Today our creative information journey goes to South Africa and into Cape Town. A few years ago we visited this great place and especially for the streetart fans the neighborhood Woodstock is highly recommended. You can find grandiose works of art behind every corner. And behind one of these corners we came across the art of WAYNE BKS for the first time. The photos we took of it should cause to a bigger history some years later.

In the photo collection of Woodstock are also the works of WAYNE BKS included. The book printing agency Frankfurter Büchergilde came across this article and found one of his works very fitting for a newly published book by the author Galmon Galgut which is titled in German “Das Versprechen”, would mean in English “The Promise”. And they contacted Vagabundler, we mediated with the artist and the work is now the new cover of a novel! This action not only brought some payment money to the artist for future projects, we also kept on communicating further and created an interesting interview for you. Keep on reading and check out the conversation with fantastic WAYNE BKS!

When did you start painting and how did it come that you just didn’t stop and even developed more and more?

I started in 1999, during my last 2 years of high school. I was living in Johannesburg at the time. Painting is highly addictive, so I just kept at it. I developed more and more, because I noticed my style was influencial and I kept trying to change it so that it would look ‘less copied’.

By coincidence while walking through the neighbourhood of Woodstock we found several great artworks form you on the urban walls. One of them now gets even printed on a book cover. Woodstock was a really interesting place, but you could see as well the gentrification. It is fancy and cool now. As well it is a big show. Tell us what you think about Woodstock as the new art place and tell us where you go in Cape Town to do urban art.

Gentrification happens gradually, by the time you see it, its too late to stop. As mural artists we always find ourselves within a society we have to adapt to and try paint within restrictions. By the time this gets read, people would have found other places to paint. Woodstock has had its time, but will always be there as a highlight. Artists now are seeking more abandoned places to paint and not much on main road spaces.

Can you tell us more about how it is to do graffiti in Cape Town? Of course it is not legal, like everywhere, free art would be a crime. But still every day new graffiti and urban artworks get created.

In Cape Town it is illegal, but you can apply for a permit. Most painters dont usually apply. The rest of South african cities kinda allow public graf and murals. During the lockdown murals and graf were still going up. But here we had other struggles like a ban on cigarettes and liquor. And very little government assistance. In Cape town you could get a fine of ZAR1500.

When I look at your paintings I can see several themes in the front and in the background. There are the portrait motifs, but as well there is nature and there are straight structural elements.  Tell us more about your concept of motifs.

What I paint on walls is a direct result of finding ways to paint, so that my art doesnt look like graffiti. So that it doesn’t get buffed. But also since my early years after painting letters year after year, I decided that other ideas can be painted too. I always leave interpretation up to the viewer. I just paint what i like without thinking too much, I freestyle most of my walls, because I draw a lot.

Some more about the characters, they are very comic style, mostly with long heads. It fits very well to the background structure with the single lines. From the one perspecitve it looks simple, even childish, from another perspective you can see a lot of geometry and a labyrinth of lines with structures.

The line work style I adopted around 2014. I liked the way lines could make up structures. The first time I saw this style was the lino cut illustrations in old encyclopedias I looked through in the early 90’s as a kid. You have to know 3d and lighting to get the structures looking right. It’s always a challenge.

How do you create your artworks? Which equipment do you use, which paint, which materials, which tools?

I mainly use acrylic pva and brush and spraypaint. Smaller paintings I use a paint marker for linework

What else do you like to paint? Furniture, cars, skateboards or clothes? On which materials do you like to work on?

I enjoy mostly digital drawings, outside of graffiti. As well as screenprinting tshirts. But very few for sale, because I print myself and its a big job on your own. So I mostly make tshirts for myself. I enjoy painting on cars too, but never often do I find people asking me.

What is special for you about going outside and doing art on the walls of the city?

It’s therapy, its inspiring others, changing the landscape, giving free artworks to the streets in a way. It’s many things but probably just as simple as doing what you feel, stuff that makes you happy.

Your name is WAYNE BKS. But on many works of art it is also written the lettering CONFORM. Do you have two names for different usage or is it a seperate message?

Conform started in college around 2001. I was looking at war posters and propaganda things when we studied old poster designs. I didnt think much about it and just thought it would be cool to try wheatepastes using posters.
Then it developed into an alias. Wayne Bks became an artist name for gallery work. So the two names work together. Wayne Bks was also a username first, because Conform was already taken, lol.

It is a long way to go till you can use your inner profession, your talents and your creative skills for making money with it. You turned your passion into your job. That is the dream of many. But it is definitely not easy to get there and you have to work a lot for it. Tell us more about this.

I was in high school when I used to draw pencil portraits for family and friends, and also very young in graffiti when I did commissioned work. Even during my years as an ad agency guy I was event managing, and doing freelance work. I just had it in me to network and hustle. But yes, it’s not easy in the beginning. There are many times, when you feel you need to just get a regular job and paint on weekends. But when years pass, the industry changes. This makes it even harder to get the old job you were used to. Then you know you have to just keep at it, good times or bad. Reading books can save you a lot when learning about business, people and industry.

This “Corona” time is not gone, but it seems to ease down. When you look back on the last few years, how was it for you as an artist? How was it in South Africa in general and especially for an artist?

It was a wake up call. I might have mentioned previously, our government banned cigarettes and liquor. Creatives like myself need thier smokes. I’m not much of a drinker, but generally it’s not a good idea to take away peoples coping mechanisms. This country has passed down trauma from apartheid days. I was born in ’82 so I’ve lived through quite a bit of that trauma until about ’92 when things changed. ’94 was the official end of it, but economically 85% of the country who is not white had to pick themselves up out of working class. For me it is my generation who are now experiencing the first forms of tertiary, and middle class life to some degree. Back to lockdown days, very little assistance for the people of South Africa. Government hands out R350 per month for covid assistance to the general population. To get an idea, R350 can get you 1 or 2 days of food.  Luckily I had a few clients who supported me through early lockdown, although it never peaked as much as pre-covid, I was blessed to still keep going somewhat comfortably. All artists and creatives struggled during this period.

Are you together and creative with other artists? Is there a collective, a team, a group? If it should be annonymous, don’t tell us. But if others should be informed about them, then tell us. Art societies, book clubs, creative collectives. In which are you into? And which ones from Cape Town should people know?

Myself and Bushywopp have been working together as a team for a while. We do commercial work and proactive murals. And then I sometimes paint with artists too like 2Soft and Breeze Yokko. I respect other artists like the ones responsible for Free the Walls (Fers, Nard & Smet) for giving opportunities and uplifting the scene in Cape Town. I paint mostly solo, because I have kids and my time is limited to a few hours notice, which is not easy for other artists to commit too.

If people come to Cape Town, which places would you recommend go for seeing interesting art? So which places would you recommed with galleries? And which places would you recommed with outdoor streetart and graffiti?

For outdoor I would recommend to go to Salt river, Woodstock, Langa and Mitchell’s plain. For indoors, the only galleries that have embraced my work is WorldArt and Brutal Curation. Based in the Cape Town districto of Woodstock respectively.

In one chapter here I also want to bring up the situation with the book cover. Because it is a cool and interesting coincidence. And it could be motivating for the readers. Because some time ago a book printing company from Frankfurt in Germany asked us if they could print a photo on a cover of one of their new books. And it was with the artwork from WAYNE BKS. Via Vagabundler we could connect it. So what do you think about it? We don’t even know each other, still we could do something together. It was just very suprsing to get the email from that book company and the whole situation was interesting about how it came together. And it showed, if we connect, things can happen.

That was amazing, and thanks for mailing me. I really  appreciate you getting all the details sorted! Painting walls has landed my work in many books globally. But this has been my first book cover, so that feels great. The wall that day was found randomly. It had previous faded work by Breeze, and we got the nod from the home owner. Although the work could be considered illegal, we painted it anyway. The guy who painted with me did the letters on the left,  I’m not sure if he paints anymore, but that was the first piece I painted with him and have never seen him since. I’d love to mention him but not sure of he’s alias. And I think he might have relocated to another country.

Tell us about your planings for the future and new ideas for upcoming projects.

One thing about me is: I can never speak about plans. My belief is if I tell you it, it might not happen. The universe does not like plans exposed. My results I expose, that’s the way I live. So in essence, you can definitely make plans to scroll through my work weekly for updates.. lol! 🙂 And I’m saying this with the utmost respect!

What messages would you like to give for the readers. Here it is now meant for everybody, all the interested people, the youngers and the olders, the artists and non-artists.

My message would be start young at any interests. If your childhood hobbies are very apparent and appealing, stick to it. You’ll get a head start.

And what message would you tell especiall the creative ones who just started this journey. What would be your advice for them, how to keep on going?

I would say do some corporate work involving the career you’ve chosen. After a few years, go your own route. But build up knowledge and connections along the way. Do the work and people will notice.


Artist:  WAYNE  BKS






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