INSPIRED: Porky Hefer will be having his first solo exhibition at the Johannesburg Gallery, showcasing his big and bold works. Pictures: SUPPLIED

Porky Hefer’s work has captivated design lovers around the world and will now be accessible to a Jozi audience for the first time. Marchelle Abrahams chats to him.

He's is the new star shining bright on the African design scene. Known for bringing whimsical fantasy to life, his pieces are beautifully crafted and functional, yet seem “alive”.

The recipient of the 2013 Design Foundation Icon Award, his Fiona Blackfish installation was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. A fixture on the global design circuit, Hefer returns to South Africa for his first solo show in Joburg.

We caught up with him to talk about his work.

Many of your installations are whimsical and child-like, where do you draw your inspiration?

My inspirations come from a number of sources. One is sketching. I spend a lot of time sketching objects or forms. I try to sketch from a number of angles. In this way it actually exists - it becomes a reality rather than just an idea and you can interrogate it completely.

My sketching style was always quite childish and animated or cartoonish, rather than lifelike or technical. At first I resisted this, thinking it was a sign of immaturity in my drawing technique. But I changed tack and embraced it, and started making my real objects like the sketches.

Why do you think people are so drawn to your style?

My pieces seem to remind people of toys they had or some experience from their past. The scale of the objects helps with this.

The sensation of sitting in my suspended pieces is often likened to that of being in the womb. It’s the feeling of suspension, rather than a firm footing on the ground, as it rotates and moves uncontrollably. It’s the isolation in terms of your sight being limited and your hearing being muffled.

Picture: Justin Patrick

When you decide on a design piece, what is the thinking process behind it?

Unless it’s a flash of divine inspiration, it always helps if you have some kind of context or brief to start with. It could be a personal commission or brief from Southern Guild for a show like Design Miami, or who knows, even your own solo show. Understanding where the piece is going to go and the environment it will be in, and when it will be there is a great starting point for a design. The other way it can happen is by coming across a new technique or tradition, or meeting a craftsman with an unusual skill, or walking into a factory that makes things in ways you’ve never seen before, on machines you didn’t know existed anymore.

What is your favourite piece and why?

It’s a bit like children - I actually love them all. Usually the last one I have done is the one foremost on my mind. I recently completed a bird called Tweet. It could be used as a crib; it has wings that can move, so it’s exploring adding a new dimension, which is moving parts.

That said, the leopard branch is a big favourite of mine for too many reasons to mention - I believe it really does take my work to another plane and dimension.

His Fiona Blackfish installation was recently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. Picture: Justin Patrick

What’s next?

I would really like to get more commissions that will enable me to evolve to the next level. I like big one-off installations rather than trying to produce things cheaply so you can sell lots. It’s also time I get benefactor who enables the creation of new work and ideas.

  • The Porky Hefer solo runs from Sep 6 to November 4 at the Southern Guild Gallery, Johannesburg. Visit
  • His work can also be seen as part of the Stellar show at Southern Guild Cape Town which runs until October.