Junior Mentz creates public murals that speak to the community.
Born and raised in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape, Junior moved to Bloemfontein to study architecture. On completing his degree, he says he took a bit of a detour, accidentally becoming an artist along the way. “It wasn’t a conscious decision. It kind of just happened,” he explains. “When you study architecture, you end up learning a tremendous amount about the town that you’re in – why it functions the way it does and its unique history. I wanted to create a business that did inner-city catalytic events.” He ended up starting two businesses, which involved reworking CBD buildings into beautiful and functional spaces for students.
“Every time I inhabited a space or hosted an event, people took notice and commissioned other work.” And so began his career as a street artist.
Unfortunately, when the national lockdown in 2020 came into effect, Junior lost most of his clients. “Art is one of the first things that people cut when they don’t know where their livelihood is going to come from,” he says. So, when he was offered a job at MAP architects in Ballito, he relocated to the North Coast.
Now, he balances life as an architect and artist, and has already made his mark on the Ballito landscape. His mural Head Above Water can be found on the path to Willard Beach on one of La Montagne’s exterior walls. The mural, which stands almost two metres high and over five metres wide, was inspired by an encounter Junior had at sea last year. He and his team from work had taken a boat ride along the coast and had the opportunity to swim with dolphins, an experience he says he’ll remember forever. The concept began as a sketch in his notebook, and when Art Bank South Africa offered him the opportunity to paint a mural, he knew it would be the perfect fit.
Public art has a special place in Junior’s heart for its ability to give people something to enjoy. “Mural paintings, because they’re on a wall in a specific place with a specific context, need to speak to the people that use that space every day,” he says. “Many people can identify with my mural here – I love that.”
Working as an artist on the North Coast has been a considerable change from his time in Bloemfontein. “When painting in the city, the impulse is to uplift the space,” he explains. “In a desperate space like a dilapidated central business district, it’s really the smallest intervention that makes the biggest change. Ballito is different. It’s beautiful everywhere you go. So here, it’s about augmenting what’s already there.”
Junior takes his inspiration from his everyday life. “I don’t think there’ll ever be a shortage of ideas,” he says. “Any interaction can be turned into something visually pleasing.” He has plans for another public mural, and is currently on the lookout for the next space to paint.
Details: www.juniorbigmassive.com; 076 755 6235; [email protected]; IG: @juniormentz, @map_architects_