She is the rising star on the South African art horizon and was recently named one of Africa’s most promising emerging artists under the age of 30. Meet Umdloti urban creative Kylie Wentzel.
Her art journey began in a room crawling with geckos, set in the back garden of an old house opposite Redhill cemetery in Durban. While it might sound like a scene from a scary movie, it was, in fact, a place of wonder, imagination and fond childhood memories for Kylie. Her mom, also an artist, used this back room as her studio. Here, Kylie says, her love for art was cultivated and nurtured. “My two older siblings and I learnt a lot about making art in my mom’s studio, which was always full of geckos. The three of us have always been incredibly close. I knew from a young age that art and art making would always be important in my life.”
Having the guts to pursue the art route, however, is not for the fainthearted and it took time for her to put herself and her work out there. “Not everyone will enjoy what you make – this was the best advice I was ever given. I only really gained confidence and thought of art as a career once I took the chance and it started to work out,” says the 27-year-old tattoo-lover who lives in Umdloti with her husband, photographer Samora Chapman.
Finding her ‘sweet and sour’ style her bold, vivid and playful paintings tell stories of pineapples sold on the promenade, humid days in the garden and animals in the jungle. She documents moments in time, people who left an impression on her and animals she met along the way – all in the name of celebrating her proud KZN roots. “My inspiration is always shifting as I look to the natural and constructed environments around me. There’s always something new to see, or new ways of seeing something, and much to learn. Passing faces, strangers’ stories, urban animals, Tipp-Ex text scribbled on derelict alley walls, kitsch prints, imported goods for sale on a hot city pavement – these are the kinds of things that stand out to me.”
The characteristic black-outlined look is a distinct feature in her lively, eye-catching artworks. This style is inspired by the age-old lino cutting technique – a printmaking method where an image is carved into a sheet of linoleum, rolled with ink and printed onto paper. She discovered her love for this type of art while living in Cape Town, where she completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts at the Michaelis School of Fine Art at the University of Cape Town in 2015. Interestingly, she never really painted during her studies, as she majored in new media and photography. “Only when I finished studying, I started exploring painting. With no formal conditioning in this field, I could really start from the beginning and make it my own. I would describe my art as sweet and sour.” She says being an artist feels like you have access to some ancient sorcery. “You can take something that you are handed by reality and change it to create your own desired version.”
Next stop: Angola
In her young career, Kylie has already racked up some impressive achievements, including a recent solo exhibition at the Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg – highlights which she says she is eternally grateful for. Now, she is getting ready for her African debut, as the Emerging Painting Invitational, an international art platform developed by the African Art Galleries Association, selected her as one of the most promising painters under 30 in Africa. “I won the opportunity to go to Angola for an artist’s residency, which should be happening in 2021. To meet new people, to have an opportunity to see the world and to have your work move to different parts is a huge gift. I feel so blessed to be able to make a living from my art.”
Details: Instagram: @k.vventzel
Text: Elana Wagner