Ever since he received his first art prize in primary school, Shaun Oakley was destined to become one of South Africa’s most sought after artists in the graffiti community.
With a degree in Visual Communications and a 22-year background in graffiti and illustration, Morningside’s Shaun Oakley, self-dubbed Damn Vandal, spends his days adding pops of colour to uninspiring spaces. From personalised home interior accent walls to vibrant office makeovers and gorgeous hotel feature spaces, he thrives on breathing new life and injecting energy into everything he does.
Working mainly with spray paint and mixed mediums, Shaun’s style is a fusion of his childhood love for comics with illustrative vector designs and urban street graffiti style. It’s very clean and precise, and his message is simple. Be yourself! Each brush he uses has a story, one of commitment to pushing boundaries and embracing the unconventional, and each work of art he creates always leaves a lasting impression.
At 36, this incredibly talented father of two has already travelled the world, from France and Belgium to Spain and beyond, because of the many opportunities the graffiti scene has thrown at him. And he’s worked alongside some great brands and people. He’s worked with Reebok, designed the KFC bucket country wide – an iconic achievement for any South African illustrator; done entrances and internal illustrations for a massive South African mall project and his biggest highlight, attending Vuse Tomorrowland Festivals in Belguim, France and Ibiza, as a brand ambassador.
“These were mind blowing. I mean, ever since Grade 1, when I got my first prize for art, I felt a strong gravitational pull towards this line of work. I took art as a subject throughout school and I guess everything just fell into place, so I made it my career in 2014. Who would have thought I’d have seen so much of the world so early on in life, but I guess you could say I’m living my dream.”
Although his preferred surfaces are walls or canvas, Shaun occasionally has the opportunity to paint cars, trucks, bikes and clothing – something he derives great joy out of.
“Every surface offers a different experience but regardless, there’s something about a fresh canvas that does it for me.”
Working mainly with an imported spray paint brand called Montana, which is made for his craft, Shaun describes his work as a vibrant mix of digital design with a street edge. He paints everything from portraits and animals to botanicals and more.
“Inspiration is everywhere. Every second of every day, there is something that inspires a design, be it on social media or just someone walking in the street. We have a constant visual library and it’s called Life.”
Regardless of whether he is given total freedom of his own artistic expression or required to follow a brief, in which case he pays close attention to what a client wants, there is inevitably an element of surprise in Shaun’s work, one that is always well-received.
“I generally start my design process by sketching everything out with fine liner. This is then scanned in to create a digital design, which I either project onto the wall or use a grid method, depending on the space, before I start painting.”
Having an interior designer for a wife also has its own perks for Shaun. He says he has enjoyed working alongside Sam on many home, office and hotel interior projects since the rise of street art in interiors.
“It’s often with these projects that I’ve been able to experiment with different paint techniques and move out of my comfort zones. I have been doing it for many years now and it’s definitely a growing trend. People are tired of having the same look and feel and often wallpaper designs are limited. This route gives people the chance to express themselves and the people that work there, as well as provide new energy to a creative space.”
Overwhelmed by the demand for his creative skills, Shaun is often booked up to two months in advance, and travels the country nothing less than once a week, yet he is never short of the urge to take on any new project.
“People are pushing the boundaries in home and office makeovers, so much so that I am busy launching my own line of wallpaper designs, wrapping paper and shopfront paper designs with a graffiti edge in a variety of designs that will be fresh to the market. I have some very cool projects on the go. Some I can’t mention just yet, but I am busy with some very important GBV projects as well as a crazy project painting a GT3 Porsche.”
On his bucket list, is collaborating with Nike and Thule, designing the exterior for a local airline and even more ambitious, designing a limited edition range for Lamborghini or McLaren.
“I was born to do this. I live for the most rewarding thing about my line of work which is the freedom it comes with. The freedom to travel, the freedom to choose to not work and spend time with my kids, the freedom to paint what I want and to paint the things I enjoy; the freedom to choose who I want to work with and where, and the freedom to work for myself. It’s the best thing an artist can have.”