Attention to detail and a splash of colour are some of the arresting elements in artist Devika Pillay’s Choo Choo Train that was crafted with charcoal on canvas. Picture: Zanele Zulu/ANA
Attention to detail and a splash of colour are some of the arresting elements in artist Devika Pillay’s Choo Choo Train that was crafted with charcoal on canvas. Picture: Zanele Zulu/ANA

Durban artist paints compelling stories

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Jun 20, 2021

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EACH brush stroke is loaded with narrative value– it’s artist Devika Pillay’s way of telling powerfully painted stories on canvas and other surfaces.

Many of Pillay’s art pieces, at present on display at Community ZA, a communal art space off Umgeni Road, Durban, are likely to appeal to discerning art types.

But for those without a defined appreciation for works of art, Pillay has captioned some of her creations for nuanced meanings to become more apparent.

Pillay themed her exhibition, Catharsis On Canvas.

Her experimenting with various art genres over the years has made it difficult to confine Pillay’s style to a particular box, but she categorises her work as “modern and contemporary”.

“My work is mostly about story telling, especially the plight of people ... things like poverty, abuse and addressing political issues, from an artist’s perspective.

“I paint and capture people like in a snapshot, in that particular time and space. It depends on the narrative I’m trying to achieve,” Pillay said.

She uses material best suited to the story she wants to tell. Whether her work should be on canvas, perspex or paper, are some of the variables Pillay mulls over before a single brush stroke is applied.

“The surface matters because it enhances what you portray.”

Attention to detail and a splash of colour are some of the arresting elements in artist Devika Pillay’s Choo Choo Train that was crafted with charcoal on canvas. Picture: Zanele Zulu/ANA

Case in point was the piece she titled Choo Choo Train, showing a group of children in high spirits and sitting on a partially submerged row of tyres in a playground, which was captured in charcoal on canvas.

“Charcoal represents bringing something back to life.”

She explained the children sitting on tyres were like passengers on a train, which shows our future generation riding towards their destiny in life.

Another of her works on display was the painted piece she’s titled Fleeting Time, which has Nelson Mandela as its focal point, with a clock and candle thrown into the mix.

“Mandela made a massive impression on the world, but it was a fleeting time in our lives, and he’s now gone.

“The clock indicates that time can be infinite but also limited, and a candle burns, but goes out at some point.”

With more time to flourish and shine as an artist in these days of lockdown, Pillay can devote her entire working day to art.

Youth Transformation is artist Devika Pillay’s created contribution to the plight of South Africa’s young people Pic: Zanele Zulu/ANA

Previously, she worked as the chief executive of a Cape-Town based company that managed properties in the hospitality industry, and she was also required to act as general manager of a few hotels at times.

“Running multiple companies, I got to a point of burnout. I had to resign in November. I returned to Durban a month later so that I could breathe again.”

When you are caught up in the corporate world, as Pillay was, she said it was hard to find balance, being at the top.

But her return to Durban has enabled her creative zest to flow again and In March she began to set up her art gallery and her exhibition opened last month.

Artist Devika Pillay’s impression of Freedom. Pic: Zanele Zulu/ANA

“Lots of my work, some between six to eight years old, was in storage. I decided to refresh some for the exhibition.”

Before her job in Cape Town, Pillay ran her own interior decorating project management company, where she operated as a fine artist. In between her work, she was able to paint and sell some of her work.

Pillay, formerly from KZN’s North Coast, has been painting from her childhood days. That hobby continued into her years (the mid-1980s) as a trainee nurse.

While living at a nursing residence, she gifted her creations to others, but not any more.

“It’s a tough time for all artists; I’m dipping into my savings right now to stay afloat. But I'm not keen to return to the corporate world. I'd like my artwork to take off as a business. I know it is the worst time to start a business, but there are small pockets of clients out there.”

More of Devika Pillay’s art works Pic: Zanele Zulu/ANA

Pillay said she is also planning to teach younger artists how to become entrepreneurs and make art a business.

“Lots of people have skill and talent but don't know how to direct it. Hopefully art can help them earn money and put food on the table,” said Pillay.

Nanda Sooben, an acclaimed local cartoonist, said Pillay was a “brilliantly talented painter”.

“It’s nice to see some of her work going into a thought-provoking semi-abstract style without losing her craftsmanship.”

Her Choo Choo Train also caught Sooben’s eye because it reflected “where we come from”.

“I remember, as a kid, playing with tyres as if they were cars because we couldn't afford proper toys.

“If you look closely at her work, you will find so many sensitive subtleties.

“It does not reflect the bourgeois elite, but is engaging, sensitive and brilliantly crafted.”

Pillay’s exhibition ends on Friday but moves to the Pearls of uMhlanga next month.

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