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HELLO MY NAME IS WES

by Samora Chapman / 26.11.2014

Introducing Wes van Eeden, a multidisciplinary artist from Durban town, who plays with colour like he was cutting down rainbows and redistributing the pieces to the people. We discuss the knife-edge of art-life, integrity and the fine balance between commercial art and freedom of expression.

Samora: Introduce yourself bravely!

Wes: Hello my name is Wesley van Eeden and I am a maker of sorts; dabbling in graphic design, fine art and illustration. I grew up in Queensburgh just outside of Durban and from an early age I naturally gravitated towards drawing. In the mid 80s, Airwolf was on TV and I remember drawing the helicopter on every page of my diary I was given in pre-primary school. I remember drawing the side profile of the helicopter over and over again to get the dimensions looking right. Robotech was my biggest influence in persuading me to really draw though – I was obsessed with manga up until about 1996.

Skateboarding was also reaching its peak in popularity at the time and this introduced me to the graphics that were being produced for that culture. Skateboard culture opened up a whole new world for me. My parents could not afford one of those pro signature decks with cool artwork, so I customized my first board – I must have been about 14.

A friend from school introduced me to Ray Cappo’s band called Shelter that had positive and insightful lyrics, which got me thinking and I became a vegetarian. This album also made me look at life differently and what made it important. From the music scene, I then discovered D.I.Y ethics and Limbert Fabian’s artwork, which really stood out to me. I started a band with my brother called Crossingpoint. Being in a D.I.Y band makes you realise that you got to get off your ass to make things happen. In 2005 I left the band to focus on becoming a professional ‘visual maker’.

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Interpret Durban, 2013

What is the most important thing you strive to achieve with your art?

Primarily, I do it to make myself happy. I have an inner urge to create and if I didn’t do it I would feel physically ill. When I paint, I am able to visualize what I can’t say with words and I can focus on creating something with my hands.

Secondly, most don’t know this about my personal work as I don’t really speak about it, but the biggest reason why I use paint (drawing is an exercise I do daily) as my chosen medium for artmaking is because of my reaction to the modern world. I am fearful of where modern technology is taking us. We are addicted to media, social media, TV. For this reason, the biggest thing I’d like to achieve with painting is to arrest motion on anyone who sees it. Even if it’s for a second, I hope to at least give a viewer my perspective on things whether it’s to inspire them or a show a different perspective on some of the subjects I paint. Whatever it is, I hope to create a breach in our daily existence.

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You’re cracking it as an artist in this fickle coastal city, which artists of every denomination often desert at the soonest possible opportunity. What are your reasons for sticking it out and what advice can you give to the up and comers?

Wow thank you that is a nice compliment. Nowadays I don’t think it really matters where you live to make it as an artist and in order to create a unique voice sometimes this means living in a place like Durban, which enables you to give the world a fresh perspective. I would love to travel more… South Africa in general is geographically displaced and makes it hard to travel. If it was not for the internet, I would not be able to be doing this here though. Durban has a laid back vibe and less distractions than other, cooler cities – this keeps me focused on my creative projects. My main reason for still being here is family – family is important. I’d love to move to New York, Helsinki… but right now I am happy to be here.

I do believe at least 50% of my success is through the people I meet and that’s why I think travelling, exhibitions and building honest relationships with people are important.

Advice for young artists: don’t quit your day job until you have hustled enough clients to get consistent work outside of work hours. You’re not going to make a living out of murals alone – not in Durban anyway, so have various income streams. Keep your costs low – if you can’t afford to buy a Mac, iPhone, fancy car, then don’t. Sell your first 20 paintings cheap – thereafter sell them for what you think they are worth. But don’t sell paintings at a cheaper price just to make some cash; rather keep them as an investment – someone will see the value in your work eventually. Enter competitions for a while and, most importantly, do your own personal projects. Talking about competitions – Interpret Durban is happening soon and I would recommend any locals to enter. This is the kind of competition that would help up and comers get their name out there. Most of my success is based on perseverance and being as active as I can in my local scene.

The Zag offices, Durbs

The Zag office, Durbs

You move seamlessly between large-scale murals, fine art and semi-corporate design work. What mediums do you work in? Which is your favourite and why?

Digitally, I use Illustrator and Photoshop (Indesign for graphic design) with a Wacom tablet. Painting, I mainly use acrylic paint, water colours, spraypaint, a variety of rollers and lately I’ve been experimenting with textured materials. My favourite medium is working in brushes because the feeling you get when you switch off your phone for six hours and you get immersed in a painting is wonderful. It’s a moment when time really stands still for me, lost in my thoughts and then boom! You realise a day has just gone by. It makes you realise how short life is.

You seem to have been able to maintain your artistic integrity; defining your style, while also bagging the sought after, high profile commissions (Durban International Film Festival, Interpret Durban…). How do you strike that balance between creating original art and making a living?

I have a focused drive to make ends meet I guess and the harder you work – the luckier you get. I try my best to work to schedules… when I am working on a personal exhibition or project I set times during the week to do it (like soccer practice). This usually helps get stuff done.

Durban International Film Festival poster, 2014

Durban International Film Festival poster, 2014

Tell us a little about your residency abroad, working with Senyol. How’d it help you grow as an artist? Any other big projects on the cards?

The artist residency we did was incredible and life changing. We were given a house with two studio spaces to work in for free, stipend for materials and a van to use around the city etc. This gave us time to really focus on our work without the stress of paying bills etc. The foundation also introduced us to local artists that were incredible as well as museum shows… for the first time it felt ok to be an artist. Besides all of that, travelling to Finland was inspiring in itself. The landscape is beautiful and we experienced the snow and 24 hours of sunlight in summer. I would encourage all artists to do a residency if they have the opportunity.

I am very excited to be going to New York in April 2015! Commissioned by Queens College in New York, I will be working on a painting with local South African students here in Durban and New York students to create a painting celebrating the year of South Africa. This is a dream come true in all honesty… to get invited by a professor who I met in Cape Town and who purchased one of the paintings. I am also kinda scared of experiencing the centre of the universe, aka New York City.

Finland artist residency

Wes coolin’ in Finland

Favourite young guns in Durban right now? In the graf, design, fine art disciplines? And most inspiring artists, locally or abroad?

All the locals that are getting their name out there and burning their own path. My studio mates Christian Mugnai and Warwick Kay are incredible designers. Pastel Heart and Mookie Lion are generating some awesome murals.

My favourite international artist is Jacob Hashimoto – I discovered his work by chance when I was in Helsinki – he does incredible installations of circular kites. My other favourite international artists are Jeff Soto, Dave Kinsey, Barry Mcgee, Margeret Killgallen and Olaf Hajek.

Any last words…

Shot Mahala for the interview! Now all you cool cats, go enter Interpret Durban!

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in any way – bought an artwork, given me work as well as my sponsor RVCA South Africa for further supporting my career.

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Cape Town Art Fair

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Word Of Art

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Boiler Room

Check out more from Wes at: resoborg.com, Facebook and Twitter.

*Images courtesy of the artist

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