The story of leading artist Baba Tjeko from Parys in the Free State does not read like a fairy tale.
It reads like an inspired message that hard work and persistence are the way to reaching one’s own success. He recently secured his name among the industry leaders when he teamed up with Mini Cooper on their limited edition Modern African Gentlemen. The company calls the partnership an African first, where his art meets their craft. We speak to our ignited man.
Ignited Woman (IW): So great and wonderful things are starting to happen in your career, please tell us what exactly are the new developments?
Baba Tjeko (BT): Thank you. Indeed after years of investing in my craft, good things are starting to happen and I’m grateful. Big brands are starting to recognise my work and that has led to exciting collaborations with Mini, Channel O and Ricoffy among the recent ones.
IW: Does this new development mean that you are also going international?
That is the aim and I see it happening soon as I am now represented by someone who manages the internationally acclaimed visual Artist, Nelson Makamo. So far people who are purchasing my artworks are from around the world like the USA, Nertherlands and various African countries. However, the biggest dream is to dominate gallery spaces globally and collaborate with big international brands.
IW: Until now, how have you been promoting your work and what is the reach?
Social media has been the biggest driver when it comes to promoting my work. I learnt the importance of brand positioning and remaining consistent when it comes toproducing quality work that I upload online.
IW: Tell us more about your craft, what exactly do you do?
Although, I am a multidisciplinary artist who uses various mediums of expression, I’m currently more on painting and digital art. With painting it’s more about personal expressions of my thoughts and perspective while digital art is more commercial. It includes digital illustrations sold as prints, developing visual activations for brands and designing patterns for various surfaces. The ultimate goal is to also operate as an artistic innovator who curates creative solutions to social ills and change perceptions in black communities.
IW: Why painting (or art, I’m not sure what you call it?)
For me, art is more of a calling than it is a career. I am more fullfilled when I produce work of art to tell authentic stories of my background and help preserve the history of our cultural identity.
IW: About your work when did you start working as a professional artist?
To be honest, my journey has been on and off. One moment I’m pursuing art fulltime, the next moment due to financial need I’m back at the work place and the circle would start again. However it was in 2016 when I really went hard after my passion.
IW: When did you realize that you had this talent?
I’ve known I had talent from as young as 7 years old. So basically all of my life. I have always been told I was creative and could draw better than an average kid.
IW: Did you have to go to art school to refine your talent, or you work with what was given to you by God?
I believe mine is a gift from God. However, studying Graphic Design helped me with knowledge and skills to develop my work digitally.
IW: What inspires you?
I’m inspired by African cultures and stories, nostalgia and music. As someone who sensitive to moods and atmospheres, I am always inspired to express what I feel.
IW: To young people wanting to go into the art business, what would you say the pitfalls are?
Not staying true to who you are as a young artist will cost you a lot. Art is about the authentic expression of your inner self and if you copy someone else’s technique or narrative, it will show. It will therefore be impossible to grow and thrive if you did not start by cultivating your authentic artistic voice.
IW: How hard is it to penetrate the art business?
It is quiet hard because one has to first build a name, showcase work that is exclusively unique and then work towards getting the recognition for sales to happen. Beyond talent, there has to be passion to keep one going in the midst of financial difficulties.
Having said that, we are living in very exciting times where social media has opened up markets for good talent. People connect to my work on social media because it is authentic and I spent time developing it to be of global standards. Brands started to notice that and I am getting collaborations I used to dreamof.