City Life: Sonny side of the street

08 April 2015 - 02:26 By Rea Khoabane

In tunnels and on abandoned buildings, in railway marshalling yards and on walls throughout the city, whether you like it or not, street art is hard to ignore. Illegal but gaining increasing public acceptance, graffiti brings forgotten cityscapes to life. It gives passers-by an opportunity to judge the work of street artists.The British graffiti artist known as "Sonny" is to launch his first solo international exhibitions in Johannesburg, Cape Town, London and New York later this year. The exhibitions will comprise a series of canvas works and some painted sculptures.As a young artist living in South Africa, Sonny will use classic wildlife imagery to convey a message about the importance of conservation, highlighting the plight of endangered animals.To promote street art he will also paint a large mural in each city that hosts his exhibition.When I met him, Sonny wore a mask so as not to inhale paint fumes while he finished his latest work, a depiction of David Ogilvy, widely hailed as ''the father of advertising" in South Africa. Sonny has immortalised Ogilvy as the creative eagle behind ad agency Ogilvy & Mather on a 400m2 wall at the company's offices in Bryanston, Johannesburg.Sonny started painting four years ago while working with Photoshop.''I taught myself to paint by playing with colours," he said.His style has developed into what he describes as a mix of realism and fantasy."I like to paint animals and see them break out of clouds with element of light."One of his works adorns the walls of 22 Wolmarans Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg. It is a mural of his girlfriend, her head tilted slightly down and wearing a hoodie with fur, against a background of African patterning in red, black and orange.''I was looking for a beautiful face to bring some vibrancy to the street.The world is starting to pay attention to artists like Sonny and other local graffiti painters. Artists with tags like Rusty, Falko, Tapz, Mars and Gift are featured in the first book to showcase South African street art on an international stage. Titled Graffiti South Africa, the book, by Cale Waddacor, is a comprehensive pictorial documentary of the history and growth of local graffiti.''Poor or forgotten areas and communities are uplifted in an inspiring way," Waddacor told the magazine Art South Africa. ''The colour brightens up the lives of those who see it."The content of the mural can create a dialogue that can reach people that the artist might never meet."The creative freedom of graffiti is very different to that of any other art form: it lets people with less artistic talent find a way to develop a relationship with the arts."Graffiti is also a great social tool because it brings people together from all walks of life."The book explores South Africa's underground graffiti movement, from its birth in Cape Town to its spread to Durban and Johannesburg. It offers a critique of graffiti as a form of artistic expression and as an urban art form of and for the working class.Waddacor said his intention was to make a concise and representative visual showcase of South African graffiti and street art.'Graffiti South Africa' was launched in the US last year, and in Durban, Cape Town and Johannesburg earlier this year. It is available at Exclusive Books for R700. Visit

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