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How this painting of Black Coffee drastically changed this artist’s life

2019-07-12 17:36
Ennock Mlangeni
Ennock Mlangeni (PHOTO: FANI MAHUNTSI for DRUM)

To some it’s the magic potion that helps them kickstart their day. But for Ennock Mlangeni, coffee is a powerful part of his artist’s toolkit and the reason he’s making headlines.

Last year the 27-year-old was just another poor artist living in a shack, dreaming of the day his work would be internationally recognised. But an accidental spill of coffee on one of his canvasses changed the course of his career. And his path to success since then has been nothing short of inspirational.

Ennock, nicknamed “Coffee Bae” on social media is now preparing to open his own studio with the help of Nestlé.

“Last year around August I was busy with a piece and the coffee spilt on it so I saw something beautiful out of that mistake,” Ennock says. “So I started experimenting from that day by adding a bit of coffee on my canvases.” The first piece he did was of a random person and it came out great.

“Soon after that I had the idea of doing a portrait of Black Coffee, using coffee,” he says with a laugh. “I posted it around early August on my Facebook and it went viral. It was all over with about 11 000 shares.” It created so much hype it eventually reached Black Coffee, who wanted to purchase it. But the musician was beaten to the punch by coffee makers Ricoffy.

The instant-coffee producers invited him to their offices for a chat. “When we got there I was briefed on what they were working on – a heritage project they already had someone working on – but they squeezed me in.” Now he’s getting a studio from Nestlé, who owns the Ricoffy brand, complete with a gallery – and a coffee shop.

His current “studio” is a shack in Sasolburg, Free State, where patrons are greeted by a bright blue zinc door. It opens up into a tiny room that doubles as his workplace and bedroom. Every available surface is filled with art. Between his couch by the door and his bed are a variety of brushes, paints and materials. And the room is dominated by a wooden table where he creates all of his work, whether working on a pen portrait or an oil painting using a bit of coffee.

Despite his fame, and the numerous art competitions he’s won since he became famous last year, he still lives in his humble home with his pet cat, Emily. He recalls the meeting that changed his life. It was on the first day of October at Nestlé’s International Coffee Day event that Ennock first heard about their partnership going beyond just the heritage month collaboration.

“I was invited to the International Coffee Day event where Ricoffy planned to have a hand-over ceremony of the artworks to their mother company Nestlé. That’s when they made an announcement that they wanted to take our partnership further, but I didn’t know what they meant by that at the time.” O

nly in February did he find out just what kind of partnership they had in mind. “I was told they were interested in working with me fulltime for the studio project and that they don’t want our partnership to end here. It will run for years before it ends. “So from here on I will be working with Ricoffy. I don’t know until when because the idea is for those studios to be all over South Africa, but they are going to begin here where I am from.”

The first studio will be in a Sasolburg township called Zamdela. Ennock says it will be called The Shack Art Studios, a tribute to his own dwelling. Nestlé SA’s Zweli Mnisi told City Press the studio would be opened in the next few months.

“To make a real, positive impact in South Africa we need the best people to partner with us, particularly in youth and entrepreneurial programmes. “Or, to look at it another way, we need those great people to find their way to us. Ennock’s journey is a good example of such a partnership.” E NNOCK was orphaned at the age of seven and he and his older brother, Makhosi (31), moved to Zamdela to stay with their grandmother, Esther Maduna Thokwane, and numerous cousins. He loved art even then. “I started realising my talent in Grade 6,” he says.

“I used to do comic characters back then. In high school I participated in the Sasol TechnoX competition and year on year I kept winning it. This is when I started trusting my art skills and began building confidence in myself.” He hoped to study art after matric but just didn’t have money. Yet he didn’t let it stand in the way of harnessing his talent. He decided to develop his skills at home, using whatever was available to create.

“I’m trying to give people something different. My inspiration is poverty because it keeps you busy as you don’t want to remain there. So my shack is the inspiration.” Social media also helped him become a better artist, he says. He would often look at what other artists were doing on Facebook. “I used to check out Nelson Makamo a lot. He’s someone I met on social media, I saw his work years ago and we became friends on Facebook. I like the style of his work and his interpretation of an African face to the world.

“When people do African portraits they make sad renditions, but his pieces are different. He gives the world a different meaning of what an African face is like, children in particular because he uses children a lot in his pieces.” Ennock has taken full advantage of his newfound fame by entering various competitions. Last year he walked away with R30 000 after winning first prize at the Bic Art Master Talent Search. As a self-taught artist, Ennock hopes to help other young artists find their success. He’s going to handpick some talented children in his community to mentor and expose to the art industry.

“My 10-year vision is to have an art academy and in the near future I want an art competition with my name on it.” He’s hoping he can get The Shack Art Studios up and running by August this year and help educate his township about the power of art. He’s living proof dreams can come true, even if it takes an accidental coffee spill to be discovered