‘My career highlight’ – Meet the SA illustrator behind the biggest billboard in Africa

Ama Nunoo April 12, 2021
Russell Abrahams says painting the biggest billboard in Africa is the highlight of his career. Photo: Twitter/Russell Abrahams

Cape Town-born illustrator Russell Abrahams, also known as Yay Abe, has created what is believed to be the biggest billboard in Africa. The talented artist tapped into his inner creativity to produce the giant billboard in downtown Johannesburg. After losing his mother to the pandemic, his art has become his haven, he told Between 10 and 5.

“The last few months have been really difficult with the direct impact Covid has had on my personal life. Losing my mom threw me into space where my work has really become my saving grace. Focusing on craft and painting more is my daily goal.

“When Hollard approached me, it was such a beautiful and collaborative process. They’re really just great people and this project is definitely my career highlight. Eternally grateful and blessed to be a part of this.”

The Cape Town native, well known for his elaborate and vibrant illustrations, has always had a passion for drawing which made him pursue graphic design after high school. His first break came from being one of Design Indaba’s emerging creatives in his third year at the university which opened doors for him in the creative scene in Cape Town and beyond.

After doing many gigs in and around South Africa, Abrahams founded Yay Abe, an illustration studio specifically meant to create space for artists of color. He has taken a particular interest in painting murals and enjoys it largely because of its large-scale format and the freedom it brings in terms of what he can paint with, he said.

“As of late, I’ve really enjoyed painting murals. I guess it is the large-scale format that I find intriguing. I use every medium from house paint, inks, and spray paint.”

The 28-year-old, who used to work with the alias Fatlip, a nickname from high school, acknowledged the fact that things have changed from when he started till now. Many creatives needed industry connections to land jobs, but now social media has given many people the opportunity to share their works with the world with just a click, he said.

This, in turn, has opened doors for many talents whose work would otherwise be tucked away in their studios. “I’m seeing a lot of young people take the initiative to create the work they want. This in turn grabs the attention of big clients and allows them to create work that would have taken the youngin’ a lot longer to achieve.

“I guess the power of social media has come into play. Which is great as it’s allowed young designers access to people who have usually been guarded by gatekeepers,” Abrahams said to Sowetan Live.

Abrahams is known to add a little dazzle to everything he touches, as his designs are said to “bring the ordinary to life.” It does not matter what kind of surface it is. As his new giant billboard proves, Abrahams can work his magic on just about anything. Using Birchwood as his canvas and a blow torch as his paintbrush, Abrahams, in 2018, created a flame-grilled work of art for the Big King™ campaign, to the admiration of many.

“It was certainly the first time I have been asked to create art with flames,” Abrahams said at the time. “But, I am always looking for new ways to develop my craft with new techniques and textures. It was great having the freedom to try something new.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: April 12, 2021


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