Convicted killer goes from bricklayer to artist
07 July 2016, 16:01
Cape Town - Convicted killer Winston X never thought his love for painting the sights of the Riebeek Valley would one day see him showcased alongside established artists, let alone help him earn a salary to put food on the table.
“I started painting because I couldn’t find construction work after getting out of jail. Now it’s a job that is going to help me make something of myself,” the 44-year-old father of four said.
He is one of a number of impoverished artists whose work will be exhibited at The People’s Gallery, an initiative which gives emerging and aspiring creatives a platform to showcase and sell their work. The gallery forms part of the “Solo Studios – Intimate Art Encounters” event.
Winston X – which he calls himself because he feels he has lost his identity - said his love for colours and art developed when he was a boy in foster care.
“It was an expensive activity. I never had proper equipment, except the paints my sister would bring me from school. When I started painting, I would put my creations on any piece of cardboard I could find,” he recalled.
When he was old enough to join the workforce, he became a bricklayer and painted in his spare time.
“But life happens,” he said, referring to his battle with drug addiction in his late teens.
He was convicted of murder and assault, resulting in him spending a number of years behind bars.
“When I came out, nobody wanted to give me a job. I tried so hard to get one on the building sites, but everyone showed me away because of my criminal record,” he said.
Unable to earn an income, he decided to try and make money with his hobby.
“I started to sell my artworks on the street,” he said proudly. “I do alright, because I earn enough to look after myself.”
Winston, however, had since been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was receiving treatment at Valkenberg Psychiatric Hospital.
“But nothing will stand in my way. I am very busy with my work for the exhibition. Art saved my life. I live through my work.”
Klaus Piprek, the organiser and driving force behind The People’s Gallery, said a number of talented artists like Winston had not had opportunities to develop their skills or benefit financially from their creativity.
“People don’t generally take street artists seriously. Many think Winston is harassing them and chase him away,” Piprek said.
Winston and a number of other disadvantages talents will benefit from Solo Studios, which is a collaboration between artists, art curators and galleries in the Riebeek Valley.
It was created to provide an opportunity for art lovers, buyers and collectors to visit artists in their studios to view and purchase their art. A percentage of the proceeds from Solo Studios would go to an arts development trust, which would manage and fund a sustainable growth programme for The People's Gallery.
Among those adding the final touches to their creations for their debut exhibition is first year Stellenbosch University student Franklin Koopman.
The visual arts student has been working feverishly to finish his eight pencil and charcoal drawings which comprise Expressions, which depict how people view life.
He manages to find the time to fine-tune his creations as a full-time student who commutes 150km every day – a two hour train journey and a taxi trip – from Riebeek Kasteel to Stellenbosch.
“But it’s worth it,” he insists. “This is an exciting time to be an artist.”
His father motivated him to explore his creativity after he finished Grade 12 last year.
The family which employs his mother as a domestic worker helped him on his way to Maties.
“I never thought my hobby could one day end up being a career,” he said.
“This is an amazing opportunity for me. It is a platform for people to see my work.”
He had never made a cent off his love for drawing, Koopman said.
“I always did it for fun, not thinking that I could one day draw for payment. This exhibition will hopefully be the start of something even bigger for all of us.”
The People’s Gallery will be open on July 29, 30 and 31 in the Riebeek Valley Tourism Office.