Michael Mhlanga did a viral painting called “The African Puddle”, that traveled around the world before he could tie his shoelaces. Deep inside the inspiration of this masterpiece, is Mhlanga, a young and extremely imaginative artist from Mpumalanga South Africa in a Village called Mzinti. He was born in 1994 in Johannesburg but then grew up in Mpumalanga.
Being raised by a single parent after losing their father in 2001, Mhlanga and his siblings knew hunger all too well because of the financial burden on his daily waged mother. This woke a hustler’s spirit in him and he juggled work and study until he completed secondary school with good grades.
But since there was no money to further studies, Michael Mhlanga took a gap year in 2014 where he worked odd jobs where he saved some money over one year and finally took up a course in Accounting. After exhausting the little he had managed to save, and accumulating a school loan of R40,000, Mhlanga was forced to drop out of school.Michael Mhlanga did a viral painting called “The African Puddle”, that traveled around the world before he could tie his shoelaces. Click To Tweet
We sat down with Michael Mhlanga to find out more about him:
Michael Mhlanga In His Own Words:
1. At what point did you realize art is what you really want to do and what did you do next after this discovery?
After dropping out of school I realized the creative side of me through graphic designing, I’m sitting in my room playing with the phone, I design something then I posted it then people started to react positively that’s when I used the hustling spirit to feed my siblings and mother.
I remember I designed a price list where I would design a poster charging people with airtime when they pay with the airtime I would take it, sell it to my neighbors to get the money then go buy bread from there.
Then I think it was then easy for me to adapt to the fine arts because the willingness to want to learn was there, I wouldn’t say I discovered it but it did to me I just took a gamble and wanted to try, and yes it was never easy but my late best friend Desmond marakala made me stay when I wanted to let it go.Deep inside the inspiration of this masterpiece, is Mhlanga, a young and extremely imaginative artist from Mpumalanga South Africa in a Village called Mzinti. Click To Tweet
I have the guidance and support of mentors and people I look up to like Tumelo Take, Penelop Motaung, Desmond Marakalala, Itumeleng Mnguni, Vanessa Selahla, and Ausiki Podi. They have all played a big part in making Michael Mhlanga and they were all classmates.
At some point I was struggling with food, and a place to stay , the emotional battles were there and they kept me sane, but Desmond Marakalala and Tumelo Take has always been the one down to helping grow.
It’s never easy to do any artwork when your mind, body, and soul isn’t okay, so they have been key into keeping me going even when I sometimes felt like art is not for me, They used the money to get me some stuff to practice with, and after losing Desmond what served most as motivation was wanting to make him proud.
2. What is your background and what role does it play in making you and your art unique?
I am from deep in the villages where life is not any easy, After our father passed on it became worse and forced our mother “Elizabeth” to go to the farms to work just to get us going, she then moved to work as a domestic worker, and she did her level best just feed us.
I remember she used to come back with Chicken skin, and we ate that twice on a Christmas day also. Growing up handed clothes, given pity than love woke up this hungry hustler in me and made me work hard at school, and art has given me that chance to talk about it all in a sense that says I am not ashamed.
That is because it made me, that’s why I am free to do artworks about a woman working in the village, about kids playing and all that, and yes sometimes I want to do artworks about depression, anxiety, freedom, etc.
3. What was the most significant moment for you during your growth as an artist?
Meeting Desmond Marakalala kept me sane and going, being around creativity gave me self- competition and the will to always try to be better than myself, Meeting friends that showed support was important to me it made me feel like I do matter and growing to understand what is going on made me enjoy every class
I started attending art classes back in 2017 and I got a chance to be around different people and I was able to adapt to styles, how to hold a pencil, what and what not to do, the rest just needed practice until you grow to realize what sells the most, which is now I believe creativity and concepts do.
4. What did it feel like when you first realized you want to do art?
I was nobody out there alone trying to make ends meet, and when I realized that I am now able to do something I then set and worked with concepts, and realized that I can be able to tell stories and teach someone out there.
I always try to tell a certain story for each artwork and sometimes address a certain issue using my concept. For example, I have recently done one about depression and suicide, instead of drawing a person who looks depressed I did a burning rope that looks set up to kill someone, then I called it “Burn it” To say yes depression is real but killing your self is not an option as for the pills, as for the poison, as for the rope, Burn it.
So I always want to tell a story for someone to see themselves from it and feel like they matter, however sometimes I will paint about the beauty of Africa.
5. How do you build an emotional connection with your audience through art?
Experience works best as a motivation to that, because my art speaks mostly about what I am experiencing which becomes easy for someone else to relate and feel connected to it.
One of the most valuable pieces of art I have created so far is The African puddle. It is the one that just stood out there for the world to see and appreciate.
6. What has been the most memorable time for you as an artist?
For a village person who has less experience with attention, it came to me as a big hit proud short when my artwork went viral from Facebook.
People started sharing my work and made it possible to get clients, win awards, and interviews from across the world.
I will always fail to explain that feeling but I thank God for all of it.
7. How did your friends and family react to your work both in the beginning and now?
When comming from a disadvantaged family, parents usually want you to get an office job, that is their idea of success.
Being an artist and having the idea of doing it fulltime dis not go well with them at first but when I started making money.
It was not easy to get their support until they realized growth, not everyone believed but the few that did kept me going, and now they show love I have never known and I understand it all.
8. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given that has contributed to where you are today?
Love your art, it will love you back.– Ausiki Podi
Patience is key.
Always seek to sell creativity to tell a story or address a certain Issue.
My talent is not for me alone, so I should be able to share, either what I make from it, or it as lessons.
9. Which strategy do you use to seek out opportunities and grow your art/brand?
Social media is great and helps a lot in finding the right people to communicate with, but I use my graphic design skills to do a slide that speaks a voting challenge for the fan base. I recently did one for 6 artworks that I want to release for them to vote for 3 then the one with the most votes is released first.
10. What is the biggest reason why you still do art today?
I want to inspire more young and old people into following their love and work hard and smart to achieve the greatness in them.
I love to speak solutions than just stating the problem, so what I grew to what I want to do is for example paint or draw about how to heal from depression than showing a depressed person. I believe solutions are what we all need than just pointing the problem.
11. What would you want to change about the art industry and what is next for you?
I wouldn’t want to change anything about the arts but the mindset of how many of us do it. Most of us we are good at creation but we lack storytelling, inspiring, business minds and patience.
I’m working on a series of social and emotional artworks we are facing here in Africa and around the world, I am still looking for sponsorships and looking to soon start working exhibitions, make enough money to build my own work station and build something for my village to feature talented people.
Before I would wake up in the morning and strive to make ends meet but the experiences of art has given me the chance to wake up with a drive and wanting to draft something I see fit to address in my community, and has taught me life lessons like staying humble, being patient and stay believing that one day your light will come and shine.
I for the first time in my life in the center of attention, and slowly so I am growing to realize how God works, because I am not rushing and as humble as ever, it has changed how I used to feel, I am small and most of the time I would feel like I don’t matter, less of myself and low in confidence, but appearing in a few media platforms around the world gave me a percent more than my negativity towards me.