Meet Greatjoy: a “Contemporary expressionist”

Artists' Spotlight Series - Conversation with the artist
June 18, 2021
© Greatjoy in his studio, South-Africa
© Greatjoy in his studio, South-Africa

Pavillon 54 had the chance to have a chat with Greatjoy Ndlovu: born in 1993, Greatjoy is a Zimbabwean visual artist living and working in Johannesburg, South Africa. One of the most interesting emerging artists on the South African scene, Greatjoy dynamic paintings are enriched by expressive brush strokes, graphite-drawing and splashes of color. His subject matter is mostly focused on human beings: their bodies, their behaviour, and their emotions. During the past year, Greatjoy explored the impact of the pandemic on our society and created a series of works, displayed on Pavillon 54, focusing on subjects as love, affection and family.

© Greatjoy ‘Harmony 2’ (2021) -  Oil paint and charcoal on canvas 43 3/4 x 41 3/8 in 111 x 105 cm.


  1. How did you choose the series of works on display on Pavillon 54?


With this body of work I'm exploring the ideas of love, family and unity. That's why there's a lot of red in the pieces. I'm exploring the idea of affection because I think that's what the world needs especially at this point in time. I worked on these three pieces for the platform because this is what I wanted to show. In my work the most important thing is the essence of the human being, the emotions, it's something that I'm passionate about. I don’t tend to identify myself; I tend to focus more on the essence of human beings because I feel like the world it's been driven by so much commotion, we've got a crazy history behind, and I think there's still a chance to celebrate what we have and exercise our capabilities and channel them to their right path. I want people to get a feeling, I want people to understand the spirit, which is in me. 



© Greatjoy ‘Mothers love’ (2021) - Oil paint and charcoal on canvas 38 1/4 x 37 3/4 in 97 x 96 cm.

  1. When and how did you first approach art?


I studied art from a tender age, since primary school. Art has been an integral part of my being, because when I was at school I got a lot of encouragement especially from my teachers, and even from my family. I went to an art school, Cyrene High in Matabeleland South, Zimbabwe, where there are murals, and art was something which was somehow central in the school. The missionary that founded the school took art as something important and had his own followers creating mirrors, chapels, and all of that. That's where I've started learning drawing and painting.



© Greatjoy ‘Nonkululeko’ (2021) - Oil paint, charcoal and gold leaf on canvas 39 3/8 x 31 1/2 in 100 x 80 cm.



  1. Where does your inspiration come from?


In contemporary art a body of work is inspired by a certain period of time and it evolves over time. I think it's super valuable to try and be as original as you can and also share your personal story in your work. Right now, during this pandemic, something which I've been analysing and realising is the vulnerability on its own. It has been in its own prime because for so many people the pandemic is taking a toll in their lives especially where I am at here in South Africa. There are so many tradesmen and so many job losses and the idea of family, the idea of love, has  been very important for me. I think that these kinds of aspects are now undermined by the world at large because we tend to focus on mostly complicated issues instead of going back to the basic values of life.


I'm currently working on a book called “Silent Knights in Scrub Suits“ that tells about how valuable frontline workers are; because of Covid we started understanding and seeing how much these people are valuable in comparison to movie stars, musicians, and celebrities, that we glorify in our day to day lives.


Greatjoy's studo studio at August House, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2021



  1. Which are the artists that inspire you?


One of the artists that inspires me is Jenny Saville, an English artist. I like the way she plays around femininity, body anatomy, the way she also plays with paint and drawing. Regarding African artists, I love this artist from Matabeleland, my hometown, named Owen Maseko: I enjoy the way he expresses emotion, and the way he is unapologetically African and tells authentic stories. 


Saville’s ‘Volta’ (2020)

© Jenny Saville ‘Volta’ (2020) Courtesy Gagosian



© Owen Maseko

  1. Is there a reason for your works being mostly figurative?


Art movements and what's trending and what's not trending has always been there, since day one. What makes you stand out as an artist is to follow your guts and follow your instinct and follow what works for you. I've found it weird that in terms of my collectors base I do very well through figurative ways more than with portraits. I think the way I express emotions and movement in my work is something also interesting for viewers and art audiences. In a way, I can say that I am an  85%  figurative artist: I do enjoy figurative because portraits are not a really big challenge for me. On the other hand, with figurative you're dealing with ideas of posture, proportion, composition, complexity, emphasis, so there are so many things attached to the final piece. I call myself a contemporary expressionist because I use a mixture of expressionist painting and drawing.

© Greatjoy ‘Harmony’ (2021) - Oil paint and charcoal on canvas 43 3/4 x 41 3/8 in 111 x 105 cm.

  1. Your work features in various private and corporate art collections, such as the one of famous comedian and TV host Trevor Noah, ABSA Bank, South African Horizons, Envisionit Capital Solutions, and more… Do you think that these collections and investors have a positive impact on the perception of the contemporary African art market on a global level? 


African markets are like emerging markets on the global scale. I think the idea of having many collectives collecting arts it's gaining attraction also on the other global markets because they identify which artist to look at, and which artist to collect. This really helps the artist in a big way. African collections are the catalyst to a bigger global recognition for the artist and they are gaining attention on a global scale.

Greatjoy's studo studio at August House, Johannesburg, South Africa, 2021

  1. What’s your opinion on Pavillon54?


Pavillon54, being an online platform, will soon get so much attention from every part of the world because it will reach out for everyone and not just for a certain group of artists and clients. It's about connectivity and understanding and sharing experiences and to get recognition in the global arena, which is what every artist wants for their careers. There is so much to benefit from Pavillon54, and so much to look at.




Watch the full video interview below!


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