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Monday, 8 December 2014

Artists should embrace technology - Chiyesu

By Andrew Mulenga

He may be a graphic designer by profession, but Danny Chiyesu continues to juggle many hats which include those of an art teacher, photographer, painter, illustrator, arts administrator, music producer and magazine editor.

Kuomboka, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
But of late, he has taken a liking to what he calls “digital painting”, which is basically producing computer aided artworks that he at times paints from scratch or composes by manipulating the photographs that he has taken in and around Ndola on the Copperbelt where he lives and works.

Printed on paper or canvas and framed behind glass, the works depict snap shots of street scenes, children at play, traditional dances and ceremonies as well as village and township life.

The single point perspective he applies in the work Firewood Carriers for instance implies movement, a forward motion that sucks viewers into the image giving them the feeling that they are among this group of three women carrying firewood on their heads on a long rural road. This also applies to Memories of Nsobe that depicts a mother and child on a bicycle and a long winding dirt road in the middle of a forest. It references an area outside the city of Ndola where one of the country’s youngest privately owned safari sites was established as Nsobe Game Camp in 2001. Kuomboka, a rendition of the Nalikwanda, the Royal Barge of the Lozi People of Western Province is just a blurry series of smudges and sweeping brush strokes but it is instantly identifiable as the familiar vessel that ferries the Litunga (king) from his compound at Lealui in the floodplains of the Zambezi River to Limulunga on higher ground every year.

“Ever since I moved away from the light table (illuminated desk used for graphic design), dropped the Rotring ink pen, embraced the digital camera and computer, I have never looked back. I have always looked forward and want to move with time. Today I am able to illustrate my comic strip Lole for the Speakout magazine using CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator (software),” explains Chiyesu “I do some of my paintings using computer programmes such as Painter Classic and Adobe Photoshop. I have found digital painting fascinating and fun to do. As a method of creating an art object, it adapts traditional painting medium such as acrylic paint, oils, ink, watercolour, etc. and applies the pigment to traditional carriers, such as woven canvas cloth, paper, and polyester and so on”.

Firewood Carriers, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
Lole (pronounced Lol-ay), is a cartoon character that he developed for Speak Out a long running Catholic funded magazine, a monthly publication mainly targeted at school-going youths that focuses on the inculcation of wholesome lifestyles and spiritual values.

“Lole has been around since 1991. He comes from the name Lawrence. I developed him from my encounters with people I met on the streets”, he says of the popular character who is a staple on the magazines back page.

Chiyesu surely has an advantage of understanding the youthful mind-set because he taught art at Kansenshi Secondary School for close to a decade before he quit to join Mission Press as a full time Graphic Designer in 1999. Among his notable students at Kansenshi he counts Robert Kudlacs an architect now based in South Africa and Nsofwa Bowa the sculptor behind the David Livingstone statues at the Victoria Falls and the Livingston Museum.

But he too looked up to a few artists in his formative years namely Lawrence Yombwe, and his two art lecturers from the defunct Africa Literature Centre (ALC) in Mindolo, Kitwe the late Emmanuel Nsama the artist behind the 44-year old Njase Girls Christian murals in Choma and Aquila Simpasa the enigmatic and legendary artist to whom the original designs of the Freedom statue in Lusaka is attributed.

Memories of Nsobe, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
“I went to ALC because I felt the training I had at Evelyn Hone College was not enough and it was strictly for teaching. Soon after Graduation in 1989, I was offered a job as assistant editor and artist for Speakout. While at ALC we were taught graphic design, photography (shooting and developing), print-making and painting,” explains the artist who holds two diplomas from the mentioned institutions “I emerged Best Student of the 1990-91 intake. The late Bishop Dennis de Jong paid for my studies at ALC but its Lawrence Yombwe a former student of the ALC encouraged me to enrol there, I met him at Evelyn Hone College. By the way, I was in the same class with his wife Aggie together with William Miko”.
He laments the closure of ALC describing it as a sad development for the nation in general and Copperbelt province in particular highlighting the fact that the school attracted students from as far as Canada and India through the World Council of Churches.
“My experience with Mr Nsama was great because it opened my art eyes more than ever...the man was humble and patient, he taught with passion, he led by example, he brought his own works to class for us to see. My painting with oil paint improved i began painting freely. I also enjoyed his print making tuitions,” he recalls of his years at ALC “We did silk screen printing, lino printing, block printing, tie and dye. We enjoyed his stories too, particularly his experiences in Canada. Mr Nsama remained my inspiration even after graduation. We would also meet during the National Arts Council meetings and workshops in Kitwe and Ndola. I was lucky to have met Akwila despite his mental status... he showed us a few tricks here and there.”

Chiyesu is also a co-founder of the Mukuba Arts Awards on the copperbelt, which was helped set into motion by the late art patron and outspoken champion of equal opportunity Father Miha Drevenšek, however, the awards have been facing challenges of late.

Tomatoe Vendors, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
“Mukuba Awards are still on but we could not hold them last year due to lack of funds. Father’s (Miha) demise was a blow to the organization. Sponsors were hard to come by. They range from Mining & hiring companies, mobile phone providers, individual businessmen and NGOs involved in HIV/AIDS. Mission Press has played a big role too,” he says “Father Miha loved the arts so much that he dedicated his life to it. I started the Mukuba Awards alongside my fellow visual artist Davis Sichinsambwe. We told Father about the idea of hosting our own Copperbelt art awards, he was over the moon, and he loved the concept. He wasted no time and looked for sponsors from his friends in Europe. By the way Father died hours after helping organize Rabecca Malope’s show in 2011 in Ndola.”
Nevertheless, as much as the art scene in Ndola is thriving, Chiyesu explains that more needs to be done in terms of support structures for the artists.

“Slowly many people are becoming aware of art than ever before, I can say so far so good but we could do better. We rarely hold exhibitions, ever since the Ndola City Council re-possessed the Village Green amphitheatre, we have had less exhibitions. We depend on other places such as the Savoy and Mukuba Hotels, the International Trade Fair and Castle Lodge. But it is also very tough you rarely get new customers to buy your art,”

Dream Truckers, 2014, (digital painting) by Danny Chiyesu
“Shops selling art materials are urgently needed from paper, canvas, paints to brushes. We need art literature. We also need decentralization. Art should not only be centred on Lusaka. The Copperbelt just like many other provinces deserves to have art centres and exhibition galleries built, we also need more art schools and our young artists lack exposure as well.”

For sure, over the years, Ndola has been the home to a good number of prominent artists such as Adam Mwansa, Lawrence Yombwe, Friday Tembo, William Miko, Hughes Mwansa, Tom Mbumba, Jones Muna, Angela Kalunga and the more recent crop of Caleb Chisha and Emmanuel Chibaye proving that the city does have a pulsating spirit of creativity and an art gallery or centre like Chiyesu suggests should be well positioned.

Nevertheless, since 1988, the 48-year-old artist has exhibited in numerous group and solo exhibitions in Ndola, Kitwe, Lusaka and Livingstone. His work is featured in the Bank of Zambia, Lechwe Art Trust and the Villa Lucia collections.
As a graphic designer he has also been commissioned to design several logos including those of the Mulungushi University, the Northern Technical College (NORTEC), MARKS Motorways, Aquavita Mineral Water, Ndola Lime Company ltd and the Patents and Companies Registration Agency – Zambia (PACRA). He has also been running a registered art agency called Digital Majik since 2008.

Chiyesu lives the full life of a graphic designer, because by definition, a graphic designer is an art director, interface designer, web designer, layout designer, illustrator, painter, logo designer, photographer and visual journalist all in one. He urges fellow artists, particularly those in signage and outdoor advertising not to shy away from technology.

Danny Chiyesu

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