The name Taylor Nkomo may not ring a bell with many people in Zimbabwe, especially those born after independence.
But to senior citizens and art connoisseurs, the man is an icon when it comes to art. The multi-talented artist who is a Glen Norah A resident, has dabbled in many art forms such as scupture, painting, pottery, ceramics and graphic art among others, and is not showing any signs of slowing down any time soon.
But who is Taylor Nkomo?
Born 69 years ago in Mzilikazi, Bulawayo, Taylor Nkomo attended the Mzilikazi Art Centre and Bulawayo School of Art from 1970 and later moved to Harare to take up work with the Zimbabwe National Art Gallery, now the National Gallery of ZImbabwe, as a graphic artist. Among his contemporaries at Mzilikazi Art Centre were internationally renowned artists such as Vote Thebe, Adam Madebe and Charles Msimanga.
Nkomo’s love for art developed from an early age where he would make wire toys for friends and draw charts for his teachers at Mzilikazi Primary School. He would take this love of art to Mzilikazi Secondary School where he continued to excel in the genre.
He says he went as far as Form Two and thereafter joined Mzilikazi Art Centre to hone his skills. To anyone born before independence, a Form Two education was good enough as it guaranteed one of training as a teacher, nurse or any other profession one desired. After all, this was a time when Standard Six was held in high esteem and many after attaining it would go on to train as teachers and other professions.
In fact while growing up in the 1970s it was common to hear that most headmasters had a Standard Six qualification. It was rare to attain Form Four and rarer still to have an Advanced Level qualification or a university degree.
Nkomo started out doing textiles and screen printing and painting. It was after he moved to the National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Harare in 1974 that he developed an interest in sculpture where he was influenced by the likes of Nicholas Mukomberanwa, John Takawira, Sylvestre Mubayi and Thomas Mugarobwa, among others. While his main works were screen printing and graphics, during his spare
time he learnt sculpting.
It was also while he was at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe that he exhibited his works at various forums locally and won several awards.
The veteran artist worked as a graphic artist at the National Gallery of Zimbabwe from 1974 to 1997 and between 1997 and 2003 he worked at Chapungu Sculpture Park as a liaison officer for young artists, teaching them the necessary technical skills to work on stone.
Nkomo is a member of the Haya Arts Organisation based in Msasa, Harare which helps him to market his works. His clients are mainly tourists from overseas although some locals also buy directly from him. He says tourists pay better than locals.
“Tourists who buy art to keep at home pay better prices but those who buy for resale pay low prices because they want to make a profit.”
His works are influenced by everyday life experiences, especially village life.
“I like painting village scenes, childhood memories, mothers carrying their babies, harvesting, and so on,” he says.
“My works are shaped by scenes at my rural home in Matopo,“ Nkomo adds.
Passion for art drives Nkomo and he does not consider alternative work.
“Art is my life. I have never done anything else outside art. I have a passion for art.”
He has advice for people who would like to pursue art.
“The tendency is that most people want to be sculptors at the expense of painting.”
“It’s easy to copy someone in sculpture. If someone sells well you can just copy them and that way it’s not easy to tell if someone is talented or not. Most people wait for someone to sell and then copy but in painting it’s either you are good or not. It’s not easy to copy a painting,” Nkomo says.
Nkomo laments the seeming dearth of art as a discipline in Zimbabwe which he blames on lack of support.
“Lack of promotion of art at national level is to blame. The National Gallery of Zimbabwe used to scout for talent and offer awards to winners, which used to incentivise and encourage artists. The Ministry of Arts seems to be supporting performing artists at the expense of other arts genres,” he said.
Nkomo also called for the revival of community centres where many careers in art and sport were carved.
In the past many high density suburbs had community centres with functional sporting facilities and infrastructure where young people could play tennis, football, basketball and swimming among other sports. Today such infrastructure and facilities have been vandalised and the community centres themselves are in a sorry state.
The veteran artist says young artists should not limit themselves to sculpture but should be versatile as this will guarantee them an income always.
“Art is not just sculpture. You can venture into screen printing, batiks, tie and dye and so on. This is where I started myself.”
He says now he is focused on sculpture but would like to also do more paintings. His advice to upcoming artists is to be versatile. “Young artists should not limit themselves, they should be versatile. Tourists prefer paintings to sculpture. They can roll the canvass and put it in a bag, which makes it easy to carry, but can’t do so with sculpture.”
Nkomo says he plans to plough back into the community which made him a household name.
“I would like to set up a stone sculpture and art village in rural areas and introduce ecotourism in Matopo, which is my home area, funds permitting. I need sponsors for this idea to become a reality,” Nkomo says.
Nkomo is married to Nomalanga and the couple has four children, Nokuthula, Themba, Rosalind and Bradshow. Of these children, only Rosalind is artistic as she is into designing fabrics.
Art has given him a decent life as he has managed to extend his Glen Norah core house into an impressive house with a tiled roof. He also has two trucks that he uses to ferry his stone sculptures and other art work to exhibitions. The artist also uses the trucks to traverse the length and breath of Zimbabwe looking for stone that he uses in his sculptures. Most of the stones he uses are found in Mvurwi, Guruve, Chiweshe and Kwekwe.
One of his iconic sculptures that he keeps at home is titled “The Visionary,” and shows a man in deep thought and with his eyes fixated to a spot.
Nkomo has won several awards and exhibited his works locally and abroad in a glittering, decades-long career.
1971 First Prize (Painting) Bulawayo Eistedfod Society Show
1988 Highly commended (Painting), Baringa Exhibition, National Gallery of Zimbabwe
1988 Award of Merit (Graphics), Baringa Exhibition, National Gallery of Zimbabwe
1991 Award of Merit (Sculpture), Zimbabwe Heritage, National Gallery of Zimbabwe
Expo 2000 Hanover, Germany
Chicago Central Park Conservatory 2002
Denver Botanical Gardens, Colorado 2004
Franklyn Park Conservatory, Columbia, Ohio 2004
Denver Botanical Gardens, Colorado 2005
Art in Action Water Perry, Oxford, UK 2005
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe mural
$2 coin pangolin design
Mbuya Nehanda Drawing
Overseas Exhibitions and Workshops:
University of California, US
San Francisco, Chapungu Gallery, US
Central Loveland, Colorado, US