WINDHOEK, June 22 — When life gives you lemons, you make lemonades, and in this case, when life gives you an active imagination coupled with steady hands, you create art. Such is the simple explanation a self-taught painter and artist Paulus Kanyanga gives when narrating his artistic prowess.
For Kanyanga, 28, art has always been second nature. At the age of five, he was already modelling cars and animals out of clay. By the time he was nine, his passion to evolve drew him toward expressing his art using paper. This began a process that has continued over the years as he has honed his skills with practice, hard work and engaging other artists for tips and experiential learning.
Ever since picking up a pencil and drawing on paper, he has gradually broadened his range of artistic works by trying many materials like oils, charcoal, wood-burning, acrylic, and graphite pencil, and incorporating acrylic on canvas works.
Kanyanga completed his Grade 12 at Namibia’s Maria Mwengere Secondary School in the country’s Kavango region in 2014 but was not able to enrol at university as he just got an E-symbol in English. “I struggled a lot with one of my brothers doing construction work in the hopes of collecting money for a bridging course. So I enrolled at the College of the Arts (COTA) where I enrolled in 2019 and dropped out the same year due to lack of tuition money.”
Namibia’s COTA is an institution of arts education in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, which offers full-time degree programs in African performing arts, visual art and fashion design, television production, radio production, and new media design, and music and sound production. At COTA, Kanyanga managed to exhibit his works once before he began moving toward a direction that would enable him to earn money.
Artists in general found it difficult to sell their works amid wave after wave of the global pandemic. Before the COVID-19 epidemic, he would often get referrals from previous clients which would see him draw one or two paintings a week. The several lockdowns made it near impossible for him to interact with his clients and prospective ones.
“I am the breadwinner in a family of nine children, and also I have my son to take care of. I used to have some clients here and there before COVID, but when it hit, it affected my business,” he said. “Arts and culture are resilient, create understanding, particularly during challenging times such as the one we are currently faced with.”
“I began marketing myself using Instagram and Facebook. One has to be very patient and luckily for me, I had material to keep myself busy and I would watch tutorials, learning from YouTube to perfect and hone my talent and try to be as best as I can,” Kanganya said. “At first there wasn’t much happening but then slowly, albeit, in a matter of weeks, I began getting clients both through referrals and on social media. Eventually, I was getting 3 or even 4 clients per week who wanted me to do various artwork for them.”
The money Kanganya makes is determined by the number of clients he gets in a month. “I am still an upcoming artist and not yet that recognized. So if it’s not my lucky month I can make less than 1,000 Namibia dollars (about 63 U.S. dollars) or nothing. But now because of my marketing, if it’s my lucky month, I can go up to 3,000 Namibia dollars. Normally, I only sell commissioned portraits but I don’t do any other art besides painting and no other business for now. My business mostly is supported by government employees since the 20th of every month is when the clients come in. Most of them I follow on social media such as Whatsapp,” he explained.
One of his most memorable moments was getting the chance to meet and hand over a portrait he had drawn for Namibian Olympic sprinter Beatrice Masilingi.
He remains steadfast that art is a gift from God that can help earn money and “all that you require is discipline, dedication and hard work.”
Kanganya believes that the future “is in my hands,” and is bright as he has begun interacting with his clients as before due to the relaxed restrictions and freer movement.
He told Xinhua that his ultimate ambition is to set up and own a studio where he may continue learning, passing on knowledge, and giving other artists invaluable experience and exposure in the capital of Windhoek. (Xinhua)
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