In Conversation with SkyArtz Portraits: The New Age Artist Redefining Zimbabwean Art

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NOMQHELE SISA NKOMO

What do most people think of when they hear the phrase ‘Zimbabwean Art’? Well for me, my mind always races to abstract paintings and disproportionate stone sculptures. I’m sure you do too, because that’s what is always showcased, but, there is more to what’s meets the eye, literally.

The internet age has exposed artists to diverse forms of expression, and this has brought about a new brand of ‘Zimbabwean artist’. You can see the Western influence in their work, but somehow the ‘proudly Zimbabwean’ aesthetic still manages to shine through.

These were my initial thoughts as I gazed at Nigel Mutare’s work when I attended July’s Arts-Scapes event. For someone so young, the raw emotion in his paintings give me hope for Bulawayo art.

My initial intrigue led me to a great conversation, which culminated in this article. I just feel like Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, the world needs to know about SkyArtz Portraits.

Below is an excerpt of the long conversation we started at Arts-Scapes. The transcript has been edited for the sake of clarity and brevity. Enjoy!

Who are you?

Nigel Mutare is my name. I am 19 years old, Bulawayo born and bred. I did my primary school at McKeurtan Primary School, and attended High School at St Columbus’ High School. I am very much interested in technology, anything to do with technology  gets me excited.  I am also love travelling, and of course  art. That is my daily bread.

Why ‘SkyArtz Portraits’?

SkyArtz Portraits is a brand name given birth to as a result of a belief I have. SkyArtz basically means ‘art beyond all dimensions’,  the sky itself is the only limitation the brand has in this world. There’s a long way to go in telling the true human story through pencil and paper and impacting the world in a massive way. Portraits is just a specification of the art that I do

When did you realize your passion for art?

From a very young age I had a fascination for drawing, but I just did it for fun with my friends. I used to draw cars, and cartoon characters from Dragon Ball (the popular anime series). It was just a way for me and my friends to refresh our minds in-between class work. That was the starting point if I must say, and I must’ve been in Grade 3. I don’t really remember the better part of my primary school years but I know that I still carried on drawing. I can’t say it was a distraction from school, as I still managed to excel. I even scooped numerous academic prizes , term after term.

How supportive have your parents and friends been on this journey?

My friends have been very supportive in the whole journey because they’re more or less like the first ones to see what I am drawing.

During my school-going years,  drawing with my friends was the best thing we could do and their support is what kept me going.

As for my parents; they have been very supportive lately because now they acknowledge the fact that I am doing some commissions here and there and getting paid for the work I do.

 They are there to extend their love to their one and only son, share wisdom and turn my passion into a thriving business. I’m so grateful for all that they have done for me in my journey so far.

How much do you charge for a portrait?

My charge depends on the size of the portrait. I usually range from as little as ten dollars all the way up to thirty dollars. Affordable, right ? (chuckles)

How long does it take to complete a piece?

I usually take a week, but if time permits, and depending on client preferences, I can go beyond that.

What inspires you ?

Mainly facial expressions. I just love taking the emotion and facial expressions that people make and creating a long lasting impression of them. I get really excited when I’m doing couple’s portraits, because of the affection for each other  that they display on their faces

Apart from pen /pencil , do you use anything else to draw like paint?

I haven’t tried paint yet but I have tried coloured pencils. I want to try pastels in the near future. I do wish to paint at some point in my journey.

Do you draw anything other than portraits?

I have drawn a bird and i have a a tiger that’s in progress. I am hoping to extend my catalogue of works to the wildlife side of things

Have you ever used drawing apps for your work?

Yes! There is this application called Drawing Quid app. It basically helps with getting your proportions right when you are starting a portrait.

People have been using AI to make artificial art. How big a threat do you think this is to you as an artist and how will it affect the art industry in Zimbabwe?

It is inevitable because there are people creating and developing this technology. When they create it it, they have a problem in mind that they are trying to solve. When you introduce AI, it is definitely a threat to us as artists because this will only make people’s disregard for art even greater.

Do you think artists can co exist with AI?

For me personally I don’t particularly support AI. However the technology is beneficial to some degree given that it is not unduly abused.

Have you ever approached any gallery with your work and do you plan on exhibiting your works at one ?

Personally I feel like the art gallery is a pretty good place only if you’re used to it. I don’t feel that it fully appreciates all forms of art. When you approach them with your work, they will say “we will look at it” but there’s never any feedback. Many artists lose opportunities because the gallery only takes a particular type of art and it does not accommodate all artists.

How do you think the situation can be improved ?

I feel like artists are not starting initiatives to curb this problem. They are not displaying their work at full capacity. They are not giving themselves enough exposure. I was recently at an event (Artss-Scapes) but there were only two artists; me and this other girl. This is disappointing because art exhibitions should be full of artists showing off their work. In Harare there is the Jacaranda Arts Festival, which is the biggest art event in Zimbabwe. Unfortunately in Bulawayo such events are not hosted. The best we can do at this point is collaboration between artists, across cities. I think the only way to get a solution is for artists across Zimbabwe to assist each other.

What do you do to unwind ?

I plug in my headphones and listen to some music and sometimes I throw myself a little slumber party with myself to help me relax (laughs).

Where can people find you ?

We live in a digital era, you can find me on relevant social media platforms. I’m on Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and Tik Tok. My handle is @skyartz_portraits. You can also contact me directly on +263 77 423 8725. I’m looking forward to you guys getting on touch whether to comment, support or even buy my art

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