Rwandan refugee car guard turned artist, Erick Karangwa of Erick Fine Arts, is presenting his third exhibition in his series of Cape landscapes at the Constantia Village Shopping Centre from Sunday, 29 May until Tuesday, 31 May from 09h00-17h00.
32 year old Rwandan born Erick found himself working as a card guard at the Constantia Village Shopping Centre after arriving in South Africa more than 10 years ago. While at work he’d regularly walk past the centre’s art gallery on his break to admire a painting in the window done by Cape Town artist Andrew Cooper. Erick says. “I was in awe of this man. I wanted to paint like him and I wished I could meet him someday.”
For many years Erick worked as a car guard at the mall and as fate would have it, the two were to meet one day after a spate of serendipitous events. Constantia Village shopping centre management noticed Erick’s art and offered to host his first solo exhibition in the centre. He sold all of his artwork. This led to a newspaper article in which he mentioned Andrew Cooper as the artist he admired.
Cooper happened to read the article and was humbled by what Erick had said about him. He decided to find Erick and introduce himself. “He literally tapped me on the shoulder and told me who he was. I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that this was the man I considered my idol.” The two men chatted for a long time and Cooper agreed to become his mentor.
Cooper says: “Erick is a hugely talented artist. I believe he has great potential and I’m happy to help him out where and when I can. What makes Erick such a pleasure to teach is his desire to improve. He handles criticism well and I can tell he listens to my advice. He applies what I tell him and I can see the improvements from one week to the next.”
Every session Cooper spends with Erick is unique. He teaches him about light and how it changes at different times of the day, how to blend colours to achieve the ideal atmosphere and the importance of composition. While this is all wonderfully creative, Cooper also advises Erick about the more serious side of being an artist, like how to market himself, what prices to sell his paintings for, the importance of interpersonal communication and mostly importantly budgeting.
The key to becoming a successful artist is having patience and accepting criticism. Cooper cautions young artists not to approach galleries too soon. “It takes time to develop as an artist, which is why a mentor can help.”
Erick’s journey is still long, but what makes him stand out from the crowd is his dedication to his passion. He only occasionally guards cars now, but can mostly rely on the sale of his paintings to eat, pay the rent and buy new materials to produce more artwork. As a landscape artist Erick must explore the Cape’s surrounding mountains, rivers and beaches to expand on his subject matter, but with only a bicycle his options are limited.
Erick’s style is not traditional African, which as an African artist, already puts him ahead of the curve. He says: “In the townships there are many talented artists but they all paint or sketch in the same style using similar subject matter. They are also not willing to accept criticism from anyone and as long as people buy their paintings that’s all they’re interested in. I want to improve my skill all the time and hopefully one day I’ll earn the same respect as an artist like Andrew Cooper and earn enough money to never have to guard cars again.”