Charcoal and Child’s Play with Nelson Makamo

Posted in In the Studio by Aimee Morris on 18th October 2018

You can spot Nelson Makamo’s expressive portraits from a mile away. The Johannesburg-based artist uses printmaking techniques as well as charcoal, acrylics, watercolours and oils to create spontaneous works that capture the characters of his native South Africa.

Nelson working on one of his portraits. 


Nelson is particularly interested in representing children; the artist is drawn to the innocence and eternal joy of childhood and believes that the essence of our former child selves remains within us all. Nelson’s portraits seek to awaken that part of us and to reassume a childlike perspective on the world. Simplicity, joy, curiosity.

One of Nelson's child portraits.


Recently, Nelson has turned his focus to the women of his home country. His latest series of paintings, which he unveiled at this year’s Johannesburg Art Fair, pays homage to South African women and highlights the challenges they face.

A piece from Nelson's recent series of paintings dedicated to South African women.


Nelson trained as a Printmaker at the Artist Proof Studios in Johannesburg, though his practice has evolved over time to incorporate a range of other mediums. Earlier this year the artist won the Rise Art Prize 2018 Drawing Award.

Nelson receiving the Rise Art Prize 2018 Drawing Award, presented by Beatrice Hodgkin, Deputy Editor of FT How to Spend It.  


Nelson has had solo and group exhibitions in South Africa, the US, the UK and across Europe. His works are held in high-profile collections, including that of fashion mogul Georgio Armani and musician Annie Lennox.

A couple of pieces in Nelson's studio.


Why do you choose to produce some works in colour and others in monochrome?

I don’t plan my work, I always just go with what compels me at the time. The mediums that I use depend on what kind of impact the content of the work will be. It’s always different.

One of Nelson's recent lithographs.


What do you like about your studio?

The natural light that pours in for most of the day, even though I prefer to work at night. I also love the space itself, I have enough space to have all my work tools out in the open.

Nelson in his Johannesburg studio.


Are there any artists who inspire you?

Not really, I study my own work most of the time to see where I can improve and push myself to try new things.