Artist Anthony Bila is a creative all-rounder known for capturing the intricacies of Johannesburg life through his lens. Here he talks to us about the creative way he brings the stories of South Africa to the world.
How did you come up with your moniker, The Expressionist?
I’ve always seen people as blank canvases. We all are blank canvases at birth and then, in the way we articulate ourselves, the way we dress, how we speak, what we devote our time and energy to, we express ourselves. I wanted to capture this expression. Initially it was concentrated in fashion but overtime it evolved to all forms of expression. I wanted to capture these and express myself too through a variety of mediums, how I saw the world and how the world in turn saw me.
Your photography skills have helped you make quite a name for yourself; what have been some of your career highlights to date?
Definitely meeting Christopher Nolan at the Tate Modern while I was doing some work in the UK. Then there was a collaboration I did with Woolworths where I was sent to a music festival with amazing people and watched the likes of Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar. There have been so many great people, magazine publications, brands and the like that I’ve collaborated with – too many to mention – but if I had to count, those two moments stood out.
You are somewhat of a creative all-rounder, do you have a favourite medium you’re most passionate about?
I don’t have a favourite per se, that’s like asking a parent to choose their favourite child. But because all parents do have a favourite I may as well indulge too. Film or motion picture is the holy grail for me, as they incorporate all the mediums I use into one cohesive fluid body of work. Narrative, music, performance, art direction, photography, and a plethora of other elements go into film and it’s where I’m currently focusing my energies.
What are some of your favourite stories to tell through your work?
I like to think of myself as a conduit for other people’s stories, stories that often have gone underrepresented or misrepresented in the past. My main concern is highlighting the immense pool of talent in South Africa amongst its previously (and often, currently) disadvantaged youth. I’m working alongside RudeBoy Collective on some other commercial projects that have real impact and relevance to all of us, both locally and internationally. We are all so much more alike than we are different. I feel that when we can connect to one another on our similarities, it will help us embrace and tolerate our differences.
Could you talk us through your day-to-day routine?
I simply cannot do that, my routine is no routine. I don’t have weekends or public holidays, no working hours. It all blends into one amorphous entity that exists outside of space and time, except when I have client deadlines. I could work on my music EP I’m doing with Vox Portent one week or a treatment for a short film the next, and still an exhibition the next. The challenge is managing all my commitments without compromising the outputs of each project.
You’re a part of South Africa’s creative scene, what is it about the country inspires you?
Our diversity and the nuances that are so unique to this beautifully ugly place. It really is a rich source of content for storytelling and I feel the emerging creative class, regardless of age, are working to tell stories beyond just the apartheid. There are so many unique narratives that black creatives have not had the space to tell but now with the advent of the internet and relatively more affordable ways to tell your stories at a considerably high standard, they can be shared.
How would you describe your everyday style?
My only rule is form must always follow function. I believe that you have to be comfortable and bring your personality through in your style; that’s the whole point. I think the internet has given people templates on how to dress, which have taken away the individual flare that makes us all unique. My style also looks at the classics and the staples, adapts a little to the trends, but the core of my wardrobe must be the kind of clothes I can wear at 30, 60 and 90 with only small variations.
What’s your favourite way to spend a Sunday in JHB?
Sundays, when I can a find a free one, are spent reading, watching movies and series, cooking a simple meal with a close friend or two, gallery hopping and just being still. Some of my favourite spots are Gemeli in Bryanston, The Mesh Club, Keyes Art Mile, Baseline in Johanneburg, Newtown and the Kalashnikov gallery in Braamfontein.