A touring solo museum exhibition by Mbongeni Buthelezi is at Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein from 22 April to 30 May.

Titled Imizwa Yami (…my feelings), this exhibition is a showcase of an exceptional artist’s expression of his South African experience. ‘Painter’ in plastic, Mbongeni Buthelezi layers coloured plastic, melted together with a heat gun, which reflects a profoundly empathetic vision of his world.

The Seippel Gallery, in association with Art Source South Africa, is pleased to announce the opening of Mbongeni Buthelezi's national touring exhibition at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum.

The touring solo exhibition started its national leg at the Pretoria Art Museum; then to US Museum in Stellenbosch; followed by the Red Location in Port Elizabeth; then moved to the KZNSA gallery in Durban and is finally making its way to the Oliewenhuis Art Museum in Bloemfontein.

Says Buthelezi, “I now have 18 different techniques, each of which have subtle differences from the other. The material can be applied like large ‘brushstrokes’ in many colours, or a sepia toned portrait where layers of neutral shading creates visual depth and subtlety or with through linear drawings.”

On show will be black and white portraits; works from the series Childhood; sepia paintings from the Winter in Kliptown series; and other thematically related new pieces by Buthelezi.

“I have created a unique language I can understand and communicate comfortably in.”

Extending beyond a mere medium, this language serves to illustrate Buthelezi’s view of the world. His energetic work draws from what he sees around him - township scenes, interspersed with childhood memories forming a major part of what he engages with. Recent works introduced portraits with a jazz theme which document well known musical icons, while his most recent works explore the landscapes and houses of Kliptown - an area rich in historic significance.

“My figurative subject matter is the physical condition of township life and how this affects the way of life, which is one of survival. These experiences are sometimes interpreted in a non–figurative style depicted in organic forms and shapes taken from human forms such as arms, hands, torsos etc., as well as landscapes. I believe both styles in my work best describe life around me and my environment.”

Buthelezi’s unique approach to art has garnered him much critical acclaim and secured some very influential supporters. The Plastics Federation of South Africa is a long time patron of the artist, and he has in turn consulted them on the technical and health considerations of working with plastic. He is also quick to point out that the type of plastic he uses is generally not used for recycling due to the challenge of separating the colours and the proliferation of text on the wrapping. Hence the work he creates goes a small way to addressing environmental waste issues by his utilising materials that would otherwise remain as non degradable litter on dumps until our children have children of their own.

“During a workshop in 1991, the late Matsamela Manaka and a visiting artist from Switzerland Luca Gessner, opened my eyes to the possibility of plastic as a canvas,” says Buthelezi. He also cites the late artist Durant Sihlali as a major influence. “It was with his encouragement that I experimented with this concept and moved beyond the plastic as merely a canvas and began using it as the ‘paint’.”

“My figurative subject matter and township scenes reflect the physical environment of township life which is often one of survival. In my children at play series, I show everyday scenes around me and through my portrait studies, I try to express people’s emotions whom I’ve met.”

Accompanied by a major catalogue this project will cement Buthelezi’s position as one of our most unique artist on the South African art landscape. Having gained acclaim for his work internationally, and exhibited in venues such as the Museum of African Art in New York; the Goch Museum in Germany; and the Prague Biennale, as well as attending many international residencies, Buthelezi has developed an impressive CV.