Graffiti pioneer Falko One exhibited his latest offering, People Like Us, which comprises 20 photographs of paintings completed in Kalbaskraal in Franschhoek, at an exhibition at Upstairs on Bree in the CBD last week.
Falko One, who lives in Kenilworth, grew up in Westridge in Mitchell’s Plain after his family moved to the area in 1976.
“I have been doing graffiti and street art for the past 28 years. My formative years were about teaching me tenacity and endurance rather than the art. The struggle, hustle and sometimes rejection contributed to me still being in the industry 28 years later,” he said.
The exhibition is part of the Red Heart Rum #LiveWithHeart campaign.
“They identified me as an ambassador that was already, in theory, living with heart. They approached me and said they didn’t want to interfere with what I was doing and came on board as a funder. It is seldom that you get involved with a company who is willing to do this. Usually they want you to do work that is unrelated to what you are currently working on.”
He started working on the project in October last year and said the work took two to three months to complete. “I did a lot more pieces and what you see here tonight are the pieces that I really like. I could say how much work I wanted to produce. I thought 20 pieces were enough and it wasn’t too stressful,” he said.
He said the paintings were done at an informal settlement in Franschhoek. “I went there for the first time last year, and it is in my nature to stop and look at places that interest me.
“I told my wife ‘let’s go and look at this spot’. You have to park quite far down and walk up the slope to get to the informal settlement. The people were great, and the view was amazing. It took me an hour or two to complete each painting. It also depends on whether I choose to make the paintings interact with the environment. If it is just a plain artwork it takes an hour,” he said.
The exhibition is bold in its use of images and colour, and is a platform for Falko to give back through the donation of unique paintings to 20 different NGOs.
Speaking about how street art has evolved over the past 30 years, he said: “From the 1980s to the early 2000s, traditional graffiti like tagging was commonplace.
“However, when street art came about, you could do whatever you wanted to do and not be labelled as a sell-out.
“I am all about keeping it real and now there is this offshoot where I can create whatever I want to and that has made me happier.”
Falko One draws inspiration from watching TV. “Unlike other people who say they do unrealistic stuff, I enjoy watching TV. I haven’t even seen an elephant in real life. I watch unrelated stuff; they call it lateral thinking.
“I will, for instance, watch the series House or Seinfeld which has nothing to do with art and somewhere in what I am watching, a seed will be planted,” he said.
On what it means to live with heart, he said: “Living with heart seems like a cliche, but it’s more than that. If you have anything to do and in your heart you feel despondent about doing it, then in that sense you are not living with heart.
“However, when you wake up in the morning and are excited to do what you love, then I believe that is what it means to live with heart. There are many people who have 9am to 5pm jobs and are unhappy because they aren’t doing what they love,” he explained.
Falko said it’s difficult to be completely authentic in the work you do as it’s impossible to reinvent the wheel. “Going to the beach and watching the waves can catalyse a new way of surfing if that is your passion. It’s about shoplifting various ideas to create something unique.
“For example you can shop at Woolworths, Mr Price and Edgars and create your own unique outfit which is truly individualistic,” he said.
When questioned about the symbolism of the elephant in his work, he said: “I don’t like to say what the symbolism is behind the elephant because it’s personal. I painted an elephant because everybody relates to it.
“It’s not like when you paint a person and people say it doesn’t look like how a black or white person should look. My approach is similar to that of many story books where they use animals to tell a tale as it’s relatable to everyone.”
Falko plans to travel to Europe to build his brand in the upcoming months. “I need to expand and reach beyond this pond because this pond is too small. I plan to go to the UK and Wales and if the visa requirements in Europe are dropped I plan on going everywhere.”