Artist paints with fire and plastic waste

Hard at work in his Johannesburg studio, South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi is busy making something from nothing
Hard at work in his Johannesburg studio, South African artist Mbongeni Buthelezi is busy making something from nothing.



Discarded pieces of plastic, including bags and drinks wrappers, are this artist’s medium. With it he crafts unique, colourful portraits. The plastic bubbles and pops under Buthelezi’s fingertips, which are calloused from manipulating the hot, molten material he uses to create his large-scale abstract pieces.

The 49-year-old artist began working with plastic in his final year at art school. He says he chose to create artworks using discarded plastic to draw attention and stand out from the crowd. “With water colour and all other mediums or media that I have experimented with in the past, there was a time where I felt that I’m hitting the ceiling, I’m not growing anymore. I wanted to be noticed and I wanted to catch attention, because I knew also that I’m moving into a career where you have to be really special to be able to even make a living out of it.” The plastic’s rough texture evokes the gritty reality of life in South African townships. 

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