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Mbongeni Buthelezi – turning recycled plastic into high art

Plastic is often thought of as an unlovely, functional material that we have learnt to live with. It is not associated with artistic expression. A possible exception is Philippe Starck’s furniture, which goes some way towards beautifying plastic.

Mbongeni Buthelezi takes plastic all the way – he paints with plastic, on plastic. In his early years as an artist, he couldn’t afford traditional paint and so he developed a technique that uses recycled plastic to create works of art that are as pleasing to the eye as oil paintings. He melts down plastic using a hot air gun to bring it to a state in which it can be moulded and manipulated onto a flat surface. Buthelezi has figured out what kind of discarded plastic to melt so as to realise particular colours – according to an interview he gave to the Financial Mail, the red from Coke six-pack wrappers becomes purple; the white becomes a rusty brown.
This is the entrepreneurial spirit at its best; taking trash and turning it into high art. Buthelezi is currently showing his work at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. As I strolled through the JAG on a Sunday afternoon, I was impressed by art works that are both subtle and striking. The work retains all the sophistication and complexity that distinguish museum quality pieces from the rest.
Buthelezi has exhibited far and wide including cities such as Cologne, Berlin, Amsterdam, Cairo, Houston, London and New York. Represented by the Seippel Gallery, his work features in all the major South African corporate and government art collections.
Mbongeni Buthelezi’s exhibition, “maNyauza, Silent Messages to my Mother” is on at the Johannesburg Art Gallery until 31 January 2012.


Seippel gallery
Mbongeni Buthelezi’s website
Review of exhibition at the Johannesburg Art Gallery

Image: Mbongeni Buthelezi, Untitled (Singer), 2008, Plastic on plastic, 244 x 122 cm, Seippel Collection

3 replies on “Mbongeni Buthelezi – turning recycled plastic into high art”

I’m trying to reach him. I’m having a poetry book published in England at the end of February and am looking for cover art. His work is fantastic. I would appreciate any help you can give.
Thank you

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