Artist Buhle Nkalashe takes a leap of faith

Buhle Nkalashe, a graduate of the Cape Town Creative Academy, talks to Mirandi Nel, about his path to becoming an artist.

Growing up in Khayelitsha, Buhle Nkalashe never considered making art his career as he couldn’t understand how it could be financially viable. “Maybe the background I grew up in had an influence on my thoughts,” he says. “I wasn’t exposed to many artists.”

Buhle Nkalashe in front of his artwork, Ndimhle (2018). His paintings incorporate mixed media and make use of patterns and symbols to reflect his heritage while documenting contemporary culture.

His view gradually changed when he discovered more about graphic design, visual arts and successful artists such as Andrew Salgado and Lionel Smit. Learning and reading about them started to influence his outlook on doing art full-time. “These guys were doing what I wanted to do and it turned my world around.”

Buhle wasn’t ready to take the leap and become a full-time artist just yet, so he joined the Cape Town Creative Academy (CTCA) as a Communication Design degree student. “I loved every minute and thought I’d do my art part-time or after hours. But it was always on my mind.”

“We are very proud of Buhle,” says CTCA CEO Francisca Gebert. “I remember him being a very dedicated student who was eager to learn and always made an extra effort with his projects. He was a sensitive designer who enjoyed creative challenges and could work in a team with the utmost respect for his fellow students, lecturers and the task at hand. He had the nicest manners and always dressed smartly. We knew he would go far in the industry.”

Straight after completing his studies at the CTCA, in 2018, Buhle had his debut solo
exhibition, The New African, at Youngblood Africa Gallery in Cape Town. He continued to work as a graphic designer for about two years before finally taking the leap to become a full-time independent artist.

World Take Note (2018)

Buhle is known mostly for his paint and mixed media work, which is a combination of charcoal, acrylic paint, oil paint and oil pastels. “My love for patterns influences my work. The elders in my culture wear traditional clothes for ceremonial occasions and ancestral rituals.” It was in these clothes that he observed the intricacy of the beadwork, the bright colours and vibrancy, the diagonal lines and energy of all the different patterns. For him, using patterns is a way to pay tribute to the foundation of who he is and he believes they represent ‘South Africanacity’ very well. “[They’re] almost like an identity,” he adds. “Our traditions stay with us wherever we go. I borrow patterns as a way to contribute to that feeling of belonging to our ancestors and our rituals, even in 2021.”

Feeling fortunate to have been presented with so many opportunities during the past couple of years, Buhle says they were the kind of breaks he thought he would get only when he was closer to 40. He participated in several exhibitions, including Top 100 for the Sanlam Portrait Award in 2017 and Woordfees, Africa’s Art Collective Seasons at the Julie Miller Institute and the Saatchi Online Campaign (South African Emerging Artist), all in 2019. In the same year he was invited by Red Room Contemporary Gallery to exhibit at the Turbine Art Fair. He was nominated by Saatchi as one of the Best Young Artists to Collect in 2020 and participated in the Cape Town Art Fair’s digital rendition in 2021.

“I’m grateful for my time at the CTCA,” he says. “The lecturers were really good and wanted us to succeed. The institution is up to date with current trends and always expanding and the syllabus is thorough. I might be biased, but it’s the best creative college out there.”

In Conversation (2018)