Some of the Creative Block artworks, created on 18cm x 18cm blocks and bought for resale to corporate patrons and the public.

Connecting the arts and business enables artists to sustainably earn a living. And a visually spectacular manifestation of such a partnership is the Creative Block project, an initiative of Spier Arts Trust, a patron to artists across the African continent.

Select artists are invited to transform 18cm x 18cm blank blocks using any medium they choose. The finished works are submitted for critique at regular submission days in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth, and the best are bought for resale at R1500 each to corporate patrons and the public.

More than 250 participating artists are involved in the project.
Patrick Rapai, 42, is a fine artist who majored in painting and sculpture. He joined Creative Block about two years ago.
“We start the process by painting on blocks, then from there you develop to a canvas and bigger projects,” he says.

“My paintings are inspired by the African landscapes and places that I visit. I’ve travelled extensively in Europe and the US, mostly in Chicago and Michigan, and that’s where I draw my inspiration from - I translate it on to canvas.” 

Nqabutho Phakathi with some of the artworks he has developed.

Rapai, who is based in Johannesburg, says he is happy with the way people keep coming back and buying art from him and other participants, because it empowers the artists financially as well in the creative process. 

“So I love the adoration from that sense. It drives us to be more creative towards the world’s accepted art. I am from Zimbabwe, and I’ve been moving to various places.”
Rapai reckons the project is important for creative artists because they get their creative direction from Spier Arts Trust chief curator, Tamlin Blake. 

“It improves our art, because as an artist you think what you think right now is what matters, but sometimes the world demands to see more, and it’s financially rewarding as well.
“Basa (Business and Arts South Africa) is a good platform for a creative person to be part of.”

Patrick Rapai shows two of his creations.

Rapai recently opened an art gallery in Bez Valley, Johannesburg, which he is developing with young and upcoming artists.
Another artist participating in the Creative Block initiative is Nqabutho Phakathi, 38. 

“I am very much into portrait painting on canvas. I have been in the art space for 18 years now, but I’ve been involved with Hollard (Insurance) and Nando’s since 2007,” he says.
“Creative Blocks has helped me grow in a big way as an artist. You are given six blocks every month, and with those blocks you get to learn and explore mediums and try different aspects.” 

The Johannesburg-based artist says he is “very much into painting women and capturing them”.
“They carry a lot of movement in them, and I’ve become interested in capturing special moments like those where they don’t think anyone is watching. I then put it into paintings and drawings,” he says. 

“The art space is important because it helps us grow. There are many disadvantaged artists from our communities, where they are poor, and when they become involved in an initiative like this it help them grow with the little money that they make to support their families.
“And it also helps them feel recognised - it boosts their confidence,” says Phakathi.

The foyers of Lionel House and Florence House, the company’s head office buildings at the Hollard Campus in Parktown, Johannesburg, each feature a constantly changing wall of Creative Blocks - with every work available for sale.

Pieces available for purchase.

“For this reason, we created our ongoing Better Futures marketing campaign,” says Heidi Brauer, Hollard’s chief marketing officer.
“This campaign describes how we approach business, it tells people a little about our culture, and it serves as a constant reminder to us all that doing good is good for business.

“The Creative Block project is the perfect manifestation of what Better Futures is all about.
“It benefits the artists by providing them with income and guidance, it benefits Hollard by engaging us in creativity and reflection, and it benefits society through bringing into the world works of great beauty.
“And it’s been incredibly successful: in the past five years, 17000 artworks have been sold,” she said. 


The Sunday Independent