Remember the name Elpee – because this young man is going places in the world of art.
Born with a natural talent for drawing, Elpee – whose real name is Anathi Nkhanyuza – has taken doing art with pencils and paint brushes to a whole new level. He is “playing with fire”.
Sometimes he burns his paper but most of the time he draws the most beautiful and amazing pictures. Elpee’s tools are any size of paper, a burning candle, a clean brush and an eraser. And he works upside down.
He calls it smoke art and says he has been doing it for a year. Smoke art, or fumage, as it was known in the early 1900s, is a surrealist art technique popularised by Austrian Wolfgang Paalen. Between 1936 and 1967, Paalen made impressions by using the smoke of a candle or kerosene lamp on a piece of paper or canvas. He would then paint it over in oil.
Born in Tsomo in the Eastern Cape, Elpee has leaned through trial and error to improve his technique since he embarked on it in November last year.
“I used to burn a lot of paper when I started out. Now I have learned to first dampen my paper before I smoke it with a flame.
“You have to be very careful of how you handle the art piece [with your hands] because it can easily smudge, and then your picture will be ruined.”
He frames his pictures by using a boxed-in frame, which means the work does not touch the glass that covers it. Elpee says he always works upside down, as you cannot use the candle standing up.
“I usually do self-portraits, public art or something out of my head.
“I get a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment from this.
“I am a self-taught artist. I have never been to an art school and I have never studied art,” the humble young man says.
In fact, he is a civil engineering student at the Denver Technical College. But art has been his passion since he can remember.
“I recall that the day I started school was the day I started to draw pictures, and I loved it.”
Elpee says he came to Gauteng because it is very hard to make a name for yourself as an artist in the Eastern Cape.
“I am a poor artist with a dream,” he says.
He lives in a tiny flat in Burgers Park, Pretoria, which he shares with a friend.
He has nothing much besides his talent and a wall hung with art. He used to work in an art gallery until recently, when he decided to go solo with his Elpee’s Art Pop-up Gallery. He hopes to make it big one day and own an art gallery in a permanent structure.
“I want to own my own studio and give other young artists the opportunity to showcase their work and help them develop,” Elpee says.