Over the last few years, life has changed significantly for Donovan Julius. His desire to make changes for the people of his community led him to lead a group of protesters in his beloved community of Suurbraak, pleading with local government for housing and service provision. The pretty little ‘village green’ was taken over by hastily thrown up shacks and posters denouncing the local Mayor. He spent time in jail and was frustrated by the lack of dialogue. This ‘rebellion’ has led him to have something of a reputation as a hothead and rebel – though he is in fact a level headed guy who is able to express himself intelligently in both word and paint.
Donovan says he has recognised since this experience, that the best way to change minds and hearts, and to wake people up to injustice, is through his art, and through enabling others to create and put their feelings on canvas. He has “put fighting behind me” and is trying a better way.
So, with help from the Light from Africa foundation, Donovan learned how to teach – and now spends part of each day with groups of children and youth in Suurbraak. He built a structure which he called “The Zinc Gallery” and his following grew – with tourists making their way to meet this extraordinary young man.
One of these visitors was Emma Delpech, an artist from England. She made sure to start Donovan on the next stage of his adventure by inviting him to spend time as artist in residence at Sevenoaks School in England. While he was there (as well as visiting galleries and a Fulham football match, and participating in community work) he worked from dawn to dusk – excited to have access to a wealth of materials and opportunities – and was thrilled to have his work featured and sold at an exhibition in London.
On his return he held his first solo exhibition in Swellendam “Just Like Moons And Like Suns” inspired by the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou.
Shortly after that he was gifted a cottage in the main street of Suurbraak which he has converted into a Gallery: D.J Contemporary Art Gallery – which has its official opening on February 21st 2020. He was sad to leave his Zinc Gallery — but this beautiful little cottage sitting right there in the space where a few years ago the ‘hothead’ led his action, was an opportunity not to be resisted.
Donovan always ‘gives back’. He gives a percentage of his sales to three different community groups – a baby care home, a bursary fund for teenagers and to the elderly members of the Suurbraak community.
Donovan now holds classes at the gallery for the elderly in Suurbraak and continues to teach art to local farm school children and at an after-school group.
You don’t need to meet Donovan Julius to recognize the passion with which he approaches his art, his life and his search for justice for humanity and indigenous people. You only have to look at his work – everything is there – vivid and unforgettable.But if you are lucky enough to meet him in person, then you will find him to be just as vivid and unforgettable. He describes himself first and foremost as a father (two lovely boys, Raphael and Carter) and gives full credit to their mother, Janine, for helping him to be where he is today.
“She believed in me since the first time we met, I was broke, depressed and blamed the world… but she prayed and paid for much of the stuff I needed… on a R800 per month salary from which she had to pay rent and buy food to help me realise my goals – especially when I turned my back on painting…
It was a dark time in my life… and she was the light a flicker of hope … my saving grace…”
Donovan is only in his early 30s, but these dark times in his life have no doubt contributed to the work he produces, which is defiantly vibrant. He believes wholeheartedly that the purpose of his art is to act as a message to the people for whom he fights, and whose eyes he wants to open to their potential, and to awaken their pride.
“I truly believe being an artist in such a small community/village like !Xairu will eventually help our people to SEE you can do anything no MATTER HOW HARD OR LONG THE ROAD as long as you keep going and don’t give up…”
As a child he drew on everything with any medium he could lay his hands on: “Since forever me and my cousins always were drawing, from boet en saartjie , dragonball Z characters and gravity. Every blackboard in high school had some kind of Donovan Julius art on it!”
When he works now, the experience for him is overpowering– he describes it as being transported into another dimension, sweaty palms, heart racing , shortness of breath, an adrenaline rush …
“It’s like I’m in a bubble, I can have people around me chatting and what not – but I’m not truly there”. Portraits are his favourite subject: “You look out into a sea of faces and there is so much to read, then one will speak to me – the Oom in the street, the celebrity in the magazine – you have to look, see and understand, then bring the face alive with the all the colours that synchronize with the subject.”
One particular portrait, Piet Ogies, affected Donovan deeply.
For a while, he resisted the urge to paint him – as he knew it was going to be an overwhelming encounter – but … “his khoisan face spoke volumes, the many winters and summers and everything between screamed out at me and I didn’t want to paint him… but the energy was too strong to ignore… I couldn’t sleep for two days… so I had to abide …”
Donovan loves to create beautiful, passionate chaos, and has learned to trust the process and the energy he feel when working on his creations. When asked if he could change the world in any significant way what he would do, he replied that he would swing his magic paint brush and paint everyone different colours – no more race wars – and having been lucky enough to meet him and see his work – I believe if anyone could do that – Donovan could!
Donovan loves to create beautiful, passionate chaos, and has learned to trust the process and the energy he feels when working on his creations. When asked if he could change the world in any significant way what woul he do, he replied that he would swing his magic paint brush and paint everyone different colours – no more race wars – and having been lucky enough to meet him and see his work – I believe if anyone could do that – Donovan could!
Donovan is very active on social media – his Facebook page is a delight to follow! Check it out here: Donovan Julius Contemporary Arts