This week I sat down with Wesley Van Eeden, an artist, illustrator, graphic designer and painter who works for clients across the world as well as exhibiting his personal work in various galleries. His newest piece, “The Taxi Dance,” commissioned by Queens College, will be unveiled April 29th, 2015 @ 12:15PM – 1:30PM, The Godwin-Ternbach Museum.
(Free and Open to the Public)
What kind of art do you work with?
I do a broad range of stuff. I actually studied graphic design, and I worked at an ad agency for a number of years, and it wasn’t fulfilling me. And Then, (in South Africa things are a little bit behind the times, we didn’t have the opportunity to study illustration) I discovered illustration exists, and I started doing exhibitions and then I got commissions. I still do a bit of design stuff.
Tell me a little about the project you’re doing at Queens College. What inspired it?
It was created digitally on the computer and sketched then recreated. I was then able to play with the colors. It’s two parts, that create the inspiration for it. One is the street signage that you find in South Africa. The closest thing I can describe it to is a pop-up shop. Because owners don’t have much of a budget, they commission artists to [if it’s a barber shop] paint different hairstyles, for example. Very flat colors, Very simple. I’m also very much inspired by trying to recreate in some ways the cleanliness of a digital illustration by hand. I find that quite challenging, because it looks easy, but it’s not always so. It’s [the piece] very rough and organic, but I’m gonna wear it down to give it texture, because the street art is quite rough around the edges. I’m inspired to go back to murals because I do a lot of digital work, and digital landscape is taking over the world, and I feel a lot of people are losing the skills and techniques. In some way, work by hand should be cherished. Digital shouldn’t override it.
When did you know you were going to be an artist?
I think in 2004 was when I really made the decision. I used to be part of a band in South Africa, while I was working on graphic design. I knew music wasn’t going to make me any money at all, so I had to find something. From that point I really made a commitment to creating personal art.
What kind of band was it?
Strangely enough, we were unofficially the first Straightedge band in Africa (promoting a drug free life style, vegetarianism, positive thinking known as PMA – positive mental attitude). I was also very political, and you can’t help but be politically minded when there is a country where large proportions of the country is living in poverty, and seeing the affect of apartheid growing up, you have to make a statement and be political.
Do you prefer that your art is political?
I wouldn’t want to label it like that. It depends on project to project. It depends on the clients and where it is. When I’m doing personal exhibitions, sometimes it is political but I keep it open to interpretation. I like people to interpret it. But right now things are very distressing back home, so maybe I’ll become more political.
What was your favorite project that you’ve ever done?
This definitely is my favorite project. it’s the highlight of my career. Coming from South Africa to New York, it’s so different culturally, and I’m very excited to be here.
Are you optimistic about South Africa’s future?
I’m in the crossroads of my life, because in 2005 when I decided to be an artists, a lot of my close friends were leaving the country. And really they’ve gone because they’ve had better opportunities. But I was like I love South Africa, I love everything about it, the cultures. And I decided to stay because everyone was negative about it, and I was like well, I want to stay and do something positive. So I was very optimistic, you know “Keep hope alive.” But now as I’m getting older, I’m getting worried now because I’m married and we have a three year old, and things aren’t getting better. It is getting worse. And the sad thing is that the current government has shown to be corrupt in many areas of its services to the South African public. That being said, there are some good things they are doing, but things can be happening much quicker. We’re twenty years of a democratic country, and in some ways were worse off. How is that possible? Just look at the Rand. It’s now twelve rand to one dollar. A few years ago it was seven, and before that three.
What advice would you have for students who are looking to pursue careers in art and graphic design
I think it’s an age old thing. The harder you work the better you’ll get. You make your own luck. No ones gonna come and put a silver platter in front of you and say here you go. Also, make sure you’re doing it for yourself, not how many likes you get on Facebook or Instagram. Make sure you’re doing everything honestly, and finding your own unique voice, which is the hardest thing you can do.
Thanks for your time Wesley!
Learn more about Wesley Van Eeden and his art here: