Exploring Emotions in Charcoal and Pastels: A conversation with Try Phoku

Exploring Emotions in Charcoal and Pastels: A conversation with Try Phoku

At 12, Try Phoku from Bronkhorstspruit first sketched a world onto paper. His young fingers, guided by an insatiable eye, learned to dance with pen and pencil, capturing not just faces but the whispers of souls within.

This wasn’t just practice, it was a pilgrimage – each stroke a sacred step towards becoming the artist he is today. Charcoal and pastels joined his arsenal over time, each medium a new language to master.

My Afrika Magazine columnist Chiedza R. Mukucha (CRM) took time to interview the self-taught artist Try Phoku (TP) and this is what she unraveled.

CRM: Tell me more about yourself. Who is Try Phoku?
TP: Try Phoku is a self taught visual artist & portrait master aged 23 born & raised in Bronkhorstspruit (Rethabiseng) currently studying Performing Arts at Tshwane University of Technology. I sell my creativity to make a living, take care of my daughter and pay some of my fees. I love being creative and art is my passion. I began to pursue the world of art at an early age. My journey has been filled with many ups and downs, with a lot underestimating my work but I never lost hope. Focus has always been the fuel driving my passion for creating art and sharing my work with others.

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CRM: Why art, what motivates you to create and how did you get into art?
TP: I have always been drawn to art because it’s a way to express myself and my emotions in a creative way hence I gifted my loved ones with their portraits for their birthdays. Art allows me to explore different aspects of my life and it helps me connect with people. As I mentioned earlier, my journey into art began at a young age, when I started drawing and painting as a way to escape from the challenges of life. Over time, art became a passion and a source of comfort and inspiration. Today, I am motivated to create art because it gives me a sense of joy to know that I am also impacting the lives of others.

CRM: Do you want to talk about the challenges you faced?
TP: It is hard making a career in the arts, but it can be very rewarding. First you get to deal with a lot of rejection and criticism from others and this can break your spirit. I have faced the challenge of finding a supportive community of artists and collectors and also the need for self-promotion, self funding and marketing to find success. Navigating the art world often means navigating inconsistent income. When sales are slow, covering basic needs can feel like a balancing act.

CRM: Who are your biggest artistic influences?
TP: Despite being self-taught, museums and galleries were my classrooms, offering endless lessons in technique and style. Yet, the human experience in all its complexity, from bustling city streets to quiet conversations, fuels my artistic fire.

CRM: Have you had any exhibitions, and collaborated with other artists?
TP: I had an exhibition at Tshwane University of Technology (Arts campus) during the Art Festival. I have collaborated with other Artists but not in visual art but other forms/categories of art, such as Tyler ICU. I created a portrait visualizer for his song Ngimoja ngawe. I have also partipated in other projects including the modeling pageant, Mr and Miss Tshwane Regions whereby I drew portraits of the judges.

CRM: Oh wow, you are doing great! Do you ever have creative blocks, if so how do you handle them?
TP: Thank you I really appreciate it. Yes. I do sometimes experience creative blocks due to tiredness and it can be really frustrating. When this happens I just take a nap. When I wake up I take a walk while listening to music looking at different people’s faces just to get some inspiration. Sometimes I just take a break from art that helps me to reset and come back with fresh eyes and ideas.

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CRM: What kind of music do you listen to, besides art, what else do you do?
TP: I enjoy listening to soft music. This genre helps me to relax and recharge my creative energy. Besides art, I also enjoy reading as it keeps my brain active and helps me gain knowledge about certain things outside arts, culminating to growth.

CRM: Which book would you recommend to any artist?
TP: I would recommend a book titled “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is a book that is designed to help you overcome creative blocks and find inspiration.

CRM: When is your favourite time to create?
TP: My favorite time to create is during the night when it is quiet and there are few distractions. I find that my creativity flows best when I have a calm and peaceful environment.

CRM: How is art important to society?
TP: Art has the power to inspire and connect people. Art speaks where words fail. It’s the language of the soul, bridging gaps between cultures and generations. Imagine the joy of gifting a loved one a piece that captures their essence, or the shared laughter and connection while creating art together. Art isn’t just a hobby; it’s an economic engine. Think of vibrant street markets, thriving galleries, and bustling creative hubs. Art breathes life into communities and empowers individuals to turn their passion into income.

CRM: How did your family respond to your line of work?
TP: My family has been incredibly supportive throughout my art journey. They understand that it’s a creative and innovative field and they are proud of the work I do. They understand that this is a rapidly growing field and they believe that I am making a positive contribution to society.

CRM: What would your advice be to upcoming artists?
TP: My advice to upcoming artists is: never be afraid to experiment and take risks. Surround yourself with supportive and like-minded people and always keep learning and growing as an artist. It is important to enjoy the process and not just focus on the end result.

CRM: What do you intend to do after finishing your program in Performing Arts?
TP: Well, I have always wanted to become a teacher but also be a professional visual artist. After obtaining my diploma in Performing Arts, I will enroll for PGCE which will enable me to become an Arts teacher in high schools. In that case I will be pursuing my dream of being a teacher while still exploring my artistic depths.

CRM: What mantra do you live by?
TP: My mantra is, connect and inspire. I create portraits that connect people, strengthen relationships especially couples and putting a smile on people’s faces. This inspires me to do more because I can actually see the good that I am contributing to society. I also believe my work inspires even younger generations and upcoming artists who dream of doing what I do.

CRM: For people who want to connect with you, how do they get in touch?
TP: Try Phoku@facebook; try_phoku@instagram; tryphoku@tik tok; whatsapp & call. (076 790 5267); Email: tryphoku589@gmail.com. These are my active social media handles, that’s where I have shared some of my work.

Chiedza Mukucha

Chiedza Mukucha is a digital media and marketing Intern at My Afrika Magazine with 2 years experience and a mandate to help with changing the narratives of Zimbabweans and Africans at large, in its history and current affairs. Presently, it seems the African story is told and altered by third parties, and it is our injuction as African storytellers to document real-time and factual stories to increase our digital print as a collective. Chiedza is also an avid African literature reader and researcher. chiedzamukucha@gmail.com X (twitter): @Chiedza_RM

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