Nkosinathi-Thomas-Ngulube---Thomarts-Gallery

The journey of an artist.

Jul 16, 2020

From a street artist to a gallerist.

Coming from Mpumalanga to Johannesburg in the early 90s smelling like a woodfired fish and with rural smoke in my eyes was a scary experience blended with the excitement of an adventurer. Joburg required a street-smart experience and not a breast-suckling-infant l was.

Word has it that to be a Joburger one must undergo various, unavoidable initiations to fit in its society.

 I went through many of its initiations shockingly and unexpectedly. The most regarded, which is often met with the sardonic saying, “Welcome to Jozi”, caught up with me on my first ever ID and Wallet robbery just after midnight in the notorious streets of beauty in Hillbrow.  It was a hauntingly traumatising experience to be vis-à-vis with a gun barrel on my forehead and a knife’s edge on my nether regions.

You never get Jozi-street-smart until you go through a few of these ordeals. I was never an artist then but wrote a few poems, drank a lot of whiskeys, puffed a lot of various smokes available and sniffed a few items on the menu then.

In a year’s time l passed on for a “street-smart-look” too to fit in. Looking for a career to pursue, l got hooked on the passions of the creatives around Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville which became my hangouts. I shared their struggles and enjoyed their stories. They had no market access.

I started to explore across and beyond Louis Botha avenue into Houghton, Parktown and Parkhurst suburbs to sell their products on foot. It was a great and eye-opening wonderful journey being an art salesman.

One memory among many l want to share with you is that one day l was carrying on my shoulder a commissioned wooden sculpture wrapped in plastic to deliver to a client in Parktown. I passed the Military Museum in Saxonwold leisurely, ignoring the weight and walked down.

As l sauntered alongside the fence towards the Johannesburg Zoo, l heard police sirens around me and before l knew it, l was surrounded by policemen wielding their weapons at me. They shook the heavens out of me. I remember being out of breath.

I was pelted with questions from all sides and not given a chance to answer any of the questions. I was confused and close to peeing my pants. I am sure l understood remotely that l had to put the dead body down and unwrap it. Apparently, someone had notified the cops that there is a man walking down the street carrying a corpse.

I ditched this kind of selling art and found a spot-on William Nicol, between Republic road and Jaguar dealership, opposite an old peoples’ home. I met with all kinds of buyers, some beautiful, some gorgeous, some handsome and others what have you.

A few years later, having managed to teach myself art, l applied to Artists Under the Sun and was selected to exhibit with them at every first weekend of every month. I also got to be a ‘floater’ (a trader without a permanent booth), selling art alongside my poems at Waldorf Michael Mount Organic Market.

With perseverance comes maturity as well, and l grew passionately in my work to an extent that the remote markets were no longer of use to me and then l started the journey of knocking on various art galleries to sell my work on consignment.

Unfortunately, almost all art galleries ‘kill’ the creativity of artists, as they require an artist to stick to what they deem as saleable. Because l love and believe in what l do, l embarked on opening my own art gallery and accommodate like-minded artists whose works fit-in the DNA of my gallery.

Establishing the gallery here at Morningside Shopping Centre has been a great move for not only my career and business, but for the artists that show alongside my works, as it is surrounded by a community of art enthusiasts.