Anyone who has driven past the old Shongweni Market grounds off Kassier Road will have noticed and admired the sculptures that decorate the grassy banks. They are the handiwork of Lazarus Kufakunesu, an accomplished and talented metal sculptor who has painstakingly carved out a career for himself in the art industry.
Armed with angle grinders, a welding machine and some hand tools, Lazarus fashions old horse shoes and nuts and bolts into life-size horses. Sprockets and chains and coil springs have become the bodywork of helicopters, planes, trains, an 800kg Harley-Davidson and a giant horse-drawn carriage complete with working wheels and a coachman. Pieces of scrap metal that once toiled in fields or churned in engines, are rescued from local scrap yards and reborn as remarkable sculptures of wildlife and mythical dragons and all kinds of creatures and critters. What many discard as junk, Lazarus repurposes with new life.
At 39, Lazarus is no stranger to popular countrywide events like Decorex , The Royal Show, Decor and Design Indabas, Arts Festivals and he’s a regular at the ECR House and Garden Show. He values these opportunities to market himself, exchange ideas and find new inspiration. You won’t, however, find his work in upmarket galleries because he prefers to exhibit in spaces where he can stop people in their tracks, give them something to talk about. It’s the reason he opened his labour of love, All Hand Done Designs, on Fraser Road in Assagay, where he’s spent the past 17 years ploughing his energy and passion for art and building a productive empire.
“A career in art is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. It’s a tough industry to survive in because you rely solely on your skills to create what will hopefully bring you an income. And it’s not as simple as just getting up and going to work, you have to be in the mood to be creative. I, for example, rely on inspiration from people, places and things around me, and I especially thrive on creating art based on a challenge.”
Lazarus completed his O-Levels at a School of Arts in his home country, Zimbabwe, before making his way to the city of Gold, where he began his career carving soapstone. A statue of the embrace between a mother and child is one of the first he ever made, and still a popular piece that can be found amidst his exhibited work today. Lazarus left Johannesburg for a more laid-back life in Durban, where he felt confident he could keep up with the demand working from little local hotspots like Wilson’s Wharf, The Stables and a host of other markets in and around the city.
“I’d already started playing around with other mediums, like metal, making small ornamental pieces which became my bread-and-butter work. The first metal creation I made was a heron. It was a simple design and easy to replicate. The more confident I became, the more I pushed myself in terms of what I could make from metal. Fortunately, the local scrap yards were plentiful, and I fell in love with turning metal into art and allowing all the bits and pieces to dictate the details.”
In 2003, Lazarus joined the Shongweni Farmers & Craft Market, and doors suddenly began to open. He was exposed to a network of artistic minds and hands willing to learn his trade and, at the same time, bring what skills they had to the workbench. This was his gateway to growth, and with so much open space around him, it wasn’t difficult to expand his workspace when the time came. Finding work was no problem. Finding a way to balance creativity with making money, marketing himself and taking a break from it all when he needed it most, was the hard part.
“I love working alone, but there are occasions when a helping hand, or two, is necessary. Taking on more work and expanding my existing range, I needed to find a way to mass produce small orders faster than just with my own two hands. I also wanted to execute bigger projects and I wanted to do it in a way that I could employ and upskill, and at the same time, be my own brand. It was a great opportunity for me to teach, to learn and to improve in every area of my life and career.”
From soapstone to metal, to recycled plastic, the grass banks on which Lazarus displays the work he is so proud of, are given life through handmade pieces of art that come with a message – that our work embraces the process of change. We need to embrace that change and, at times, reimagine our understanding of what it means to exist and survive. For Lazarus, art is the core of it all.
On makeshift showroom decks, you’ll find classy light pendants, swinging chairs, bedside cabinets and a variety of stylish and comfortable indoor and outdoor furniture that has been hand woven from shredded plastic and is available in 20 different colours. Every piece is beautifully finished with a handmade cushion and a few scatters, the covers of which are all handmade by Lazarus’ wife, Philisile, who he lovingly credits for her meticulous craftsmanship and her role in the business.
Canvas paintings hang from the wooden fence that borders his open air gallery, housing all his soapstone carvings and his metal mastery. From ladybugs and owls to frogs and dogs, butterflies and the Big Five, there no challenge he won’t accept. He describes his work as an eclectic mix of art – it’s contemporary and steam punk, with elements of fine art.
“There is really no limit to what I can make from scrap metal. What makes it more unique is that I use what others don’t want. Old tins and drums, discarded appliances, broken rakes, spanners – you name it, I’ll take it, because for me, there is so much use for these things.”
“My favourite pieces are the horses, because they are majestic and energized. They are great mascots for the area, and they’re a popular sell because of the lifestyle enjoyed up here. The biggest project I’ve completed is the horse-drawn carriage you’ll see on display. This one involved creating three different pieces, and then bringing them all together. And, it really can move!”
“The larger sculptures can take up to three months to complete. For these I usually hire help to ensure I get the proportions right, as well as for some much-appreciated feedback on how the piece is progressing. I usually spend a few hours a day on bigger projects, but I never dedicate all day, every day to them, because it would drive me crazy.”
Lazarus says when he needs time out from the focus and strain of the big stuff, he finds smaller, simpler projects to work on, or gets stuck into the business books and a little marketing for a complete change of scenery. As a father of three young children, spending time with them when they are not at school is also something that is important to him, and lifts his spirits.
“Making art can be frustrating, because it doesn’t always come out the way you want it to. That’s why I ask for help. The more people involved to lend a hand or an observant eye, the more accuracy you will achieve. There is no such thing as perfection, although we all strive for it, so I’ve learnt never to take unfounded criticism to heart. There will always be negativity in the world, but we should never allow it to destroy us. We must have courage. Life goes on, so must our work and our passion.”
Despite his workload, he still finds time to give private lessons to would-be artists in whom he sees the same potential he once started out in life with. He now works regularly with the Natal Blind and Deaf Society and N’tombi Weavers and does not hesitate to refer potential clients to others if he is too busy to take on any more work. He is confident in the skills he has passed on and believes the world is a better place when we try to help or empower others.
“After years in the trade, I think I’ve managed to understand the minds of most of my customers. I know what they want, and I do my best to deliver. There is a downside to a career in art – and it has a lot to do with emotion. I love what I do, but, as they say, too much of something is never a good thing. I don’t want to hear a hammer pounding in my head at night when I’m trying to sleep. Finding a balance in everything you do is so important. At the end of every day, we should all feel content with what we have achieved; knowing that not everything we do, feel or create is going to be appreciated by everyone. But there will be those who love and respect you for it, and that plays a big role in our survival. I believe that as long as I can be a fair businessman who is able to create, market and sell art that is unique and affordable, and am fortunate enough to lead a comfortable life in which I can be a good husband and father who is able to educate and feed his children, then I will be a happy man. I want to live to inspire and continue to find inspiration, so that the fire in my soul never dies.”
You can view Lazarus’ work at 1 Fraser Road, Assagay or on his website www.allhanddone.co.za or you can follow him on Facebook: ALL HAND DONE t/a Treasures in Africa or Instagram: allhanddonefurniture
You can also call 031 768 1049.