“Art means everything to me, other than my family and friends. It is my life code to live.”

Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
My name is Themba G P Mkhize. I was born in London, England and raised in the 90’s and I love animals. When I was about three years old, I would draw Guile and Chung Lee from Street Fighter, with a big house with a red door. Mainly that’s what I would draw and how I started creating art. I was a bit of a goth in secondary school. I drew some things I found quite disturbing. The images were of Devils, demons, and gigantic versions of myself out to kill the sweeter parts of myself. It was clear where my head was. I was an angry teenager, very angry. I felt deep injustice, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I think I’m still trying to figure it out but from a far more calming place, which is great. I was quite unaware that I had problems with my mental health but the things I drew and painted would say quite a bit of where my mind was.

 

How does your mental health influence your work?
The paintings I do now are all about health and healing both mind and body. When I started to take painting seriously, it was so that I could cure certain parts of my mentality. This was in 2009. I painted a picture I titled “OCD”. I obsessed over the painting, it took me a year and a half to paint. Mainly because of my OCD at the time, I would paint and repaint, paint and repaint over and over and over. I tortured myself in order to heal my OCD. But I realized that I couldn’t heal myself that way as it only added a log to the fire. The painting is of an octopus (a fear of mine) in a wave, and behind the wave is the sun. To me, it meant in order to get over my fears, I must ride the octopus wave in order to see the sun beaming. Now I’m painting things based on mindfulness and treating it as more of a meditative practice. It feels great.

It allows me to focus on what I have become or what I would like to become. It is a reminder of where I’ve come from (mentally) and if ever I slip back there, how to regain control again. It’s like flashcards for my brain. I know how easy it is to stumble back into the old patterns of sickness. I saw how my mental health issues manifested into my physical health. I found this profoundly fascinating and started to make art based on it. They guide me to attain stability. For instance, I am using as imagery: eyes, trees, daggers, hearts, church architecture and words. They all represent something for me. Daggers are the truth slicing through me, hearts are my guide and friend, church architecture is the body in full alignment, and the eyes are the force that brings everything together, a union. I put these images to words and they help me to stay on the right path. I wouldn’t expect other people to see my paintings in the same way, but I do them from an earnest place, not a preachy place.

What is your creative process like?
Art starts in the subconscious mind, so I fill my head with everything I’d like to paint. Completely bombard my mind with the images until I dream of them even. Then I sketch and colour as much as possible(on the tube, at parties, at home). I will play around with images for as long as necessary (could be a day or even a year). Once I’ve got the image down I do a few drafts, and then a final draft. I will latch on to something I am completely fascinated by, infatuated with. I study the subject like a scientist almost then try to replicate its absolute beauty, but it’s impossible. I get mindfulness from painting now as I made it into my craft. When I first started to paint I did it as a release from stress or pain. Now it has molded my brain and made me focus and completely stay in the moment when I am painting. I do enjoy looking at what I’ve done after finishing and give myself a pat on the back if it’s good or completely criticize my work to hopefully do better on the next one if it doesn’t go so well.

My latest paintings come from how I made mental breakthroughs in my local woods (Coppetts Wood in North London). I had a profound epiphany there that changed my life. For a moment I could sense a complete state of union with the world. I had a strange understanding that ants living in London don’t know about ants living in Africa. They might wonder what’s out there. It made me think of s scale from the smallest microbes to us as humans. The wonder of life hit me in full awe in a single moment that completely transformed me, how I paint and how I operate and treat others. It was one of the best days of my life. That experience completely changed my life and made me see the path I was meant to be on. I hope people simply enjoy my artwork.

Materials used:
Acrylic paint, spray paint, stencils, chalks, and watercolour.

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