This Artist Finds Connection And Warmth In Cold Concrete

I meet FAITH XLVII on one of those perfect LA afternoons, the sort that make it impossible to imagine living anywhere else. The sun shines gently in a cloudless, blue sky over the tiny coffee shop she picked for us in West Hollywood. Birds are chirping somewhere in the distance.

When I reached out to the South African street artist — whose beautiful, large-scale murals carry powerful emotional undercurrents — I hoped we might be able to swing a Skype interview. Instead, Faith wrote that she was happy to talk on the phone unless, of course, I was located in Los Angeles. In which case, she insisted we sit down for tea.

I step inside the Paramount Coffee Project, feeling intensely curious about the woman I’m there to meet. Faith has been on the scene since she was a teenager and her work leaves you wanting to know more about the human behind the brush strokes. This curiosity is natural with such personal work. There’s a certain delicate aspect to each painting; a profound tenderness that seems to reach across the void for connection.

I find Faith sitting at a table squeezed near the kitchen and dodge a waiter carrying a precarious tray of dishes to get to her table. She closes her computer and greets me. She’s petite, with warm eyes, and a series of delicate tattoos that snake up her arms. The body art feels fitting for a woman who can infuse beauty into every space, every medium, and every surface she encounters. It makes sense that her skin would also be a canvas in some way. She’s soft spoken, but you’d be foolish to mistake that for passiveness or meekness. She’s nearly bubbling over with a quiet, fierce intensity.

My first impression is that Faith is a living embodiment of her work. That signature mixture of gentleness juxtaposed with a measured strength. She’s recently moved to LA, so we chat about our adopted city, the nature of street art (it’s not enough to simply make art that is pretty or trendy, she tells me. It should mean something), and children (I’m visibly pregnant with my first son while she has an adult son whom she misses back in SA).

Then, we sip our fragrant teas, and talk about Faith’s journey as an artist, the projects she’s working on, and the conflicting dualities of human nature that fascinate her.

Do you find yourself doing more street art or gallery work these days?

When I was a teenager, I came into the graffiti movement, which then led to the street art movement. From there, I moved into more contemporary-like gallery work. It’s been an evolution. There’s been a big shift for me in the last several years, where I’ve been moving more into the gallery space. I’ve been creating experimental video installations. I see the street work as one element of my practice rather than being the only focus of it.

Do you feel like your street art complements your gallery work, or is it the other way around?

I think it’s all part of the same animal. If I have a theme I’m working with, it bleeds over into different mediums. I’ll have maybe two or three thematics that I’m working with simultaneously, and they will manifest in different ways and different mediums.

What are the themes that you find showing up in your work right now?

At the moment, I’m busy working on a new concept for a larger exhibition. It will be a lot more immersive. One ongoing series is titled 7.83Hz. It reflects on human connection and the duality of human nature. Humans create wars and xenophobia with this separatist attitude. Yet, I contrast that with the close intimacy that we, as human beings, are capable of. I bring these really intimate scenes or interludes between people into the public space to help create moments of being human, having empathy in our urban consciousness.

Another, more life-sized project, that I did recently was a deconstructed collaboration with a photographer from South Africa based on the student protests in South Africa. Basically, taking his photographs and dissecting them up into small sections and then reconstructing them to create a new image that speaks to the original subject matter but makes you look at it slightly differently.

Do you find yourself particularly influenced by political events and the political climate in the world right now?

I don’t have a big separation between the two. There’s the external world, and the internal world. And they are entwined, they effect each other. So what’s happening externally is effecting us internally. Therefore, although I work very much on a personal level, at the same time, I’m conscious that it is a part of the bigger story. I think a lot of the issues we have externally, politically, are caused by internal conflicts that individuals and society aren’t able to deal with or process.

One thing I love about your work is the way you do combine elements, like the way you infuse nature and feeling into a cold, urban landscape. Is that kind of always what you set out to do?

Being human is challenging, and with modern society, cities, our lifestyle, and responsibilities, the demands on individuals is immense. I think it’s important to be able to step back and connect with nature, and with ourselves and each other. Sometimes the work, especially the street work, brings some of that softness back into our everyday environment.

I’m a pantheist. I believe that nature has answers for us if we study it. We will learn a lot about solutions from it. It’s important to bring nature into our everyday space, because we’re very disconnected from it. We don’t know where our food is coming from half the time, or the exact impact of what we’re eating for example.

One project that we’re doing in Sweden in August is a hologram of the moon. We’re going to put it up in deep forest there. For me, it’s a symbolic piece of work. It’s moving away from muralism into a more ephemeral / conceptual kind of public art. So that’s really exciting for me. I’ve been branching out into new mediums and with a new mindset. But the street work is always a foundation for me.

When you go back to street work do you do mostly legal and commissioned pieces now, or are you still doing illegal street work?

I do a lot of large murals these days that are commissioned. But I’ve always self-motivated and funded a lot of my own work, and I will always continue to do that. So it’s not all commissioned work. For instance, I have a series where I go into abandoned buildings and paint within those spaces. People aren’t even really going to see it necessarily.

Those are special to me because it’s more of an introverted experience. You’re creating work that really is communicating with the space. So there are things I do only for myself and then there are things I also do for the public.

For me, it feels like your work evokes the intimate sensation of looking at somebody’s sketch book. In that, it’s very detailed and you use muted sketch-like colors and strokes. Can you talk about why you’ve chosen that aesthetic?

I like the work to blend into the environment. I want it to look like it’s been there for a long time. That it’s part of the space. I don’t want it to stand out, necessarily. I want it to look like part of the fabric of the environment.

I enjoy working with things that are slightly ghostly. A little bit mysterious, like it’s … some of it’s not there. Sometimes there are parts that are faded away, and it’s like existing in two spaces at once.

Do you find that there are certain differences or challenges being a female street artist in a field that’s male dominated in many ways?

For me, it’s been important to allow myself to have that female voice in my work, and not try to subdue it or change it so that I can fit into a certain aesthetic. I love the fragility of my work and my practice, because I feel that’s part of my character. I don’t pretend that I’m strong and never falter. For me, it’s important for the work to represent something that is essentially feminine.

Your pseudonym is Faith, and there’s such a sense of spiritual questioning in your work. How do you feel like you’re effected by spirituality, and by religion in your art?

I’m pretty anti-religious. I think it’s something that separates people, and it stops people from analyzing things very deeply. It causes a lot of war and attitudes of ‘otherness’.

But I think we’re all spiritual beings, and that essentially most religions come from similar roots of spirituality. I find it hard to exist. I have a lot of questions about existence. So I’m assuming a lot of other people must do too, and that’s why people get into religion in the first place. Im inspired by ancient visuals of alchemy, esoteric questions, the subconscious mind and science. It’s cathartic, actually. I think my work is part of that searching.

You’ve recently moved from South Africa to Los Angeles. Do you think living in the United States with effect or change your work?

I have been living in South Africa, but for the past several years I’ve been traveling non-stop. I am more like a global citizen. But definitely, moving to America’s going to have an impact on my work.

I would like my work to be universal and not be specific to one place because I think visual language can speak to people without the barrier of spoken language. And so I would like to connect to different cultures and in different ways. That’s the good thing about street art. The artists are international and bring their voice globally. Being part of this community of artists, you have family everywhere in the world. And that’s what should be happening to the world. We should be expanding and globalizing. Whereas instead like with Brexit, societies are pulling back into themselves.

That’s really what’s impressive about this art movement. It has been very expansive. It’s intricately connected to the internet age and social media impact. The speed at which the work is moving and the communications are happening is cross-border. I felt isolated at the end of Africa. I didn’t have artists around me that I could relate to. It was really though the internet that I started to make these connections and started traveling. This is a movement reflective of these times.

Do you see that Instagram culture as being a positive in your work?

There are a lot of negatives about certain media. But it depends how you use it. It’s just a form of communication. It’s a tool. So you have to just be conscious of how you’re using it, but I think it definitely can be beneficial. It’s an amazing thing to be able to connect with people, and just post your thoughts and feelings every day. It’s pretty special. You can be totally overwhelmed by it, or you can use it creatively. The big issue now is to keep the Internet free and uncontrolled. That is something we should all be more aware of and fighting for. Keeping our eye on Net neutrality.

Do you feel, looking back on your career and where you were five or 10 years ago versus where you are now, that your voice and themes have changed? Or do you feel it’s stayed fairly constant?

Oh, it’s definitely changed. I feel like when I look back, I see a different person. I grew up in public in some ways, because I started when I was 16.

It’s like a diary, isn’t it?

It’s really embarrassing. It is like a diary. But if you keep going and you keep progressing and you just accept that as part of your story, people who follow you for years, see the progression too. It’s almost like they get to know you quite intimately . It’s interesting.