Combining Art & Design to Create Mindless Beauty | Interview with Local Artist – Nathan Sanan – HiLite
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Combining Art & Design to Create Mindless Beauty | Interview with Local Artist – Nathan Sanan

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF, WHERE YOU’RE FROM, AND WHAT YOU DO?
I’m originally from Port Elizabeth where I was born and raised.  I went to boarding school in Grahamstown where I was fortunate enough to get a strong education which I then furthered at UPE by studying architecture.  I have been with Imbono Architects since 2008, starting off in the PE office and then moving to East London to work under Fjord Jordaan since 2011.

WHEN DID YOU START PAINTING, AND WHY?
From a very young age, I was always loved and encouraged by my parents and sister who always guided me to be unique and express myself.  This gave me confidence.  Additionally, I always loved to draw and build things, and with my liberal upbringing was allowed and encouraged to do so as much as possible.  This gave me the beginnings of ability and an obsession with learning building/drawing/painting techniques. The combination of ability and confidence was my starting point as a creative.  The obsession with techniques grew and about 8 years ago I became obsessed with spray painting and street art.  At the time I was lucky enough to be surrounded by likeminded people who pushed me to create.  I spent hundreds of hours working on techniques, compositions and research, and mostly failing terribly to get them right. However, through perseverance and trial and error, I slowly began to carve out the ability to create aesthetically beautiful things consistently.  Now I paint with the intention to beautify spaces and bring some mindless beauty into a world where negativity seems to be the default setting for everything.


WHAT GOES INTO YOUR CREATIVE PROCESS, FROM THE IDEA TO THE FINISHED WORK?
My trained creative mindset comes from architecture so even though my artworks are expressive, they manifest from a pretty rigid process.  As a designer I like to consider relevant variables, which differ in each painting intervention. It’s not about bulldozing my ego/idea onto a canvas or wall.  I prefer to exercise a sensitive flexibility when it comes to the artworks, in both composition, subject matter and aesthetic style but at all times my intention is to create something beautiful.  I see the process as an aesthetic crossword where I take the informants, apply techniques that I’ve learnt (both in design and painting) and let those come together for an aesthetic outcome.

YOU’VE DONE WORKS AT VARIOUS PARTS OF THE CITY (E.L), WHICH ONE IS CLOSEST TO YOUR HEART AND WHY?
Closest to my heart? Man, that’s a tough question.  The Bird Wall in Chamberlain Road is an opportunity for me to be a bit selfish and have fun with light-hearted subject matter and complete freedom.  On the emotional side, I did a mural for the Hawks Motorcycle Club.  They’re an incredible group of bikers that do so much for the Buffalo Flats community and it was an honour to be able to do something for them.   The Quigney mural next to Ekhaya Eziko was an enormous challenge but was incredibly special as I was welcomed into the community and became a part of it.  Having beers from the shebeen across the road after a hard day’s work with members of the community, it is impossible to describe how happy that made me.


As far as soul food goes, the murals that I did for Stretford Holdings in the Paediatric Ward and Frere Hospital will always be one of the most humbling experiences of my life though.  Knowing that the painting intervention is going to positively impact the lives of thousands of children who desperately need a reason to smile, is an indescribable feeling. I would say that this has to be the most special to me. If I didn’t it would make me an apathetic rock.
GRAFFITI IS MOST OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH VANDALISM, HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY SUCH COMMENTS, AND HOW DO/WOULD YOU RESPOND TO IT?
Graffiti by definition is vandalism, however Street Art is something very different and the realm I like to exist in.  I believe that the difference between Graffiti and Street Art is intent.  Contemporary graffiti has its roots in hip hop culture where not only was it used to demarcate gang territories but was also used as a way to express resistance against various authorities.  Given its origin, it is understandable why graffiti has negative connotations in various societies.  However, Contemporary Graffiti has evolved into Street Art and artists have taken the exact same skills and just applied a different intent in order to beautify walls, spaces and buildings.  When I create, I go out of my way to do my murals in broad daylight so that I can engage with the public, take responsibility for the interventions and hopefully inspire other people to create.  East London’s public receive them incredibly well and I’m always humbled by the responses.  I have had hundreds of positive interactions which vastly outnumber the couple of negative ones I’ve had.

IS THERE A SPECIFIC GOAL YOU’RE TRYING TO ACHIEVE WITH YOUR PAINTINGS (NON-COMMISSIONED)?
We all have a finite amount of energy; I like to apply my energy and spare time to create mindless beauty.  My major goal is to inspire others to do the same. My minor goal is to make someone smile for no reason; it may just make their day.
IS THERE A CERTAIN SPOT YOU’VE BEEN EYEING IN E.L THAT YOU THINK COULD BENEFIT FROM YOUR WORK?
If I had to single out one, I desperately want to paint something on the side of the Osner Hotel to not only act as a beautiful gateway into the Quigney from John Bailie Road, but more importantly to raise awareness for gender-based violence.

WHERE TO NEXT, AND HOW DO PEOPLE GET A HOLD OF YOU/YOUR WORK?
I should highlight that I am first and foremost an architect, I love my job and the industry that I work in and my profession informs the direction of my life.  Painting is what I do in my free time and there’s not always time for it. I went through a stage of not painting for 6 months this year because other aspects of life needed my attention.  However, at the moment I have some exciting commissions to work on but I am still chasing that 1 big wall *looks alluringly at the side of the Osner Hotel*. People can get hold of me via email or Instagram: na041art or email: [email protected]