We sat down with digital designer Jean-Luc to find out about his path to creating arresting artworks.
PHOTOGRAPHER: FRANCOIS VISSER | INTERVIEW: MARLI GROBELAAR
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in rural Rwanda until the age of nine when my family relocated to Cape Town. I’m the youngest of four siblings and I’m currently in my second year studying for my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Information Systems at the University of Western Cape. I also work part-time as a bartender.
How did you start making digital art?
My interest in art began with free-hand sketching, which I pursued for many years but felt that I hadn’t made the kind of progress I could be proud of. I found sketching challenging, which might have been one of the reasons I found it so appealing… or maybe it was a movie I’d seen in the past where there might have been a mention that girls like guys who can sketch.
I was introduced to digital art through BlackBerry mobile applications, namely PicMix and Photo Studio all the way back in 2011/12. I would use these ‘primitive’ applications to compulsively add filters, change contrast and continuously experiment with any and all the features available.
I didn’t start making decent digital art until I owned an Android smartphone. The app which I used and still use to this date is called PicsArt. It was a revolutionary addition to my then minute artistic artillery. With more features, I was able to combine images, download and install fonts, add stickers and all for the pursuit of a greater aesthetic appeal.
In 2017 after my phone got stolen I lost the app and some works of art that I hadn’t backed up – a blemish but it was not the demise of my artistic endeavours. As a countermeasure I finally got Photoshop and with no prior experience with the program, I once again began experimenting with filters, layers and masks. Something clicked, I guess I had found my niche.
What I loved most about creating via Photoshop was that it I did not need to premeditate. All I had to do was sit in front of my laptop and see how far my imagination could go – before it got to 4am! I realised there was so much that I was still oblivious to, so I began downloading and watching tutorials on how to use the program. This basically lead me to where I am today.
What inspires your pieces?
My art is inspired by all that my eyes consume and my somewhat loose imagination. To find inspiration I usually log into my Tumblr account and save pictures that I find aesthetically appealing, provocative or even, on rare occasions, repulsive. At a later stage, I go through these saved photos and more often than not an idea is sparked. My other source of inspiration comes from artists whom I admire like Jean-Michel Basquiat.
What conversations are you hoping to start?
Right now, I’m more focused on making aesthetically pleasing art with the exception of a few
pieces that focus on current political, social and ecological issues. In the future, I’d like to be able to make art that conveys strong messages about different factions of our society, but still make art that provokes emotion whether in the viewer admiring the art piece or via the message behind it.
What influence does social media have on your work and why do you think Instagram is a good platform to promote your work?
What I value most about social media is how easy it makes it for me to connect and interact with likeminded people on a global scale. These interactions allow me to see, appreciate and be inspired by a wide spectrum of art, poetry, memes, current events and even history. I find this exposure highly influential as it offers me my widest window and stage to the rest of the world. Personally, I think Instagram is currently one of the best platforms to promote anything, especially as someone starting out. It has a large community, simple and clean interface, as well as a large number of up-and-coming artists and creatives. It can be seen as a competitive environment where everyone is competing for likes and followers, but the way I see it is that by being exposed to so many people doing and creating one cannot help but be fueled to resist being mediocre and actually start making something.
What are your favourite three accounts to follow on Insta?
*In no particular order*
What do you hope to achieve with your work and where do you see your career going in the future?
I’d like to one day see my art being used as cover art for music albums. I’ve also started doing commissions and in the future, I’d like to have an exhibition in an art gallery and to have my creations become a prominent feature in people’s homes. But most importantly, I’d love it if my art could open wonderful new and spontaneous opportunities such as getting featured in the first-ever issue of AFRICA IS NOW magazine (laughs). Lastly, I would like to collaborate with other artists and creatives.
PHOTOGRAPHER: FRANCOIS VISSER
How does being African influence your work?
The influence that being African has on my work is that I am and will always try to create art that celebrates what it means to be African. Of late my focus has been to celebrate African women by showcasing them as the centers of my work. This is not because I to conform to modern society, but rather to position myself as an expressionist who believes in making a statement against what the contemporary world considers as beautiful. I accept the responsibility that it’s up to African creatives to bring our cultures to the rest of the world in ways that the world has never seen.
Why do you think African representation is important?
African representation now more than ever is of paramount importance in our global society. We, as African creatives, need not conform to Western standards of what African art is, but to rather celebrate the values and cultures that make us a unique people, and use to these aspects fuel our creative minds. We need to learn to appreciate our differences and that the best representation of who we are can only be done by us.