To stand in front of a Makamo painting is to be reminded of a moment in your life long ago. The strokes that create the image resonate with an energy that reminds you of the freedom that pulsed through your childhood. The scale of the painting is brave and brash, yet the subject matter is simple, almost naive in its self-confidence. The connection is so instantaneous that you can’t help but feel that that beaming child in the painting is you.
To stand in front of Makamo the artist is to watch all those feelings of euphoria dissipate, as his raw account of being one of the country’s most prolific and successful young artists forces you to realise one truth about the industry: if you don’t treat yourself as a business, you will die poor and starving.
Born in Modimolle, Limpopo, in 1982, he ended up studying print-making at the Artist Proof Studio in Newtown, Jozi, in 2003. Makamo grew up, like many other black children, spending a lot of time playing soccer barefoot in the township streets. However, in telling this particular story about his childhood, he is adamant that he played barefoot by choice, not circumstance. In time, one learns that one of the unique traits Makamo possesses is his unrelenting desire to own his narrative. This forms the foundation of not just his art, but also his philosophy in business.
Makamo speaks about the art industry with a good measure of scepticism. This weariness can be traced to one of his defining moments as an artist: selling all the pieces in his very first exhibition at the Obert Contemporary Gallery in Melrose Arch, Joburg. “It was sold out, but I actually didn’t make much money. It was a shock to hear that I was doing well, that my name was flying, while the fridge was empty at home. I realised that many people claimed to want to work with me because of my name, but all they really wanted was to use me.”