The Critter Creator: Atang Tshikare

Justin Patrick

A South African talent turns to the natural (and mythical) world for inspiration.

Atang Tshikare is a modern maker, his constantly evolving work difficult to categorize. He began as an illustrator and graffiti artist in his native South Africa, later applying his street-style-friendly images and patterns to sneakers, skateboards, upholstery, even bicycles. His work caught the eye of Johannesburg gallerists Trevyn and Julian McGowan of Southern Guild, who connected him with local artists and artisans, providing him with the means to expand into sculpture. The resulting pieces, shown in December at Design Miami, were a sensation: bronze works shaped like fantastical creatures that doubled as furniture.

Although Tshikare, 37, studied graphic design, he’s loath to sit at a computer. “You get a different sense when you’re touching something,” he says. The jump from graffiti to product design was, ultimately, an organic one. “I wasn’t trained as a designer, but I naturally knew how to wrap something with art so that no matter what angle you look at it, it’s exactly what I want you to see.” He also imbues his pieces with stories, some drawn from African myths or folktales. A set of his ceramic stools, for instance, “talks about water as a giver of life and a bringer of death and all the things that go in the middle.”