“Xgjfgjh ghjkdgfhdh hjkhfh,” says Asha Zero, on the other end of a cellphone in Cape Town. Sorry, what? I jab a finger in my ear and shift around. Ah, that’s better.
“You’re breaking up,” says the artist, loud and clear. Well, yes, but aren’t we all?
This is the age of fragments and sound-bites, of words half-heard and images flickering in the corner of an eye, as we hop between channels and click on links in the vain hope that the torrent of data won’t pass us by.
It is the age of collage: of things cut out and cut up and copied and pasted, to craft an illusion that is somehow more real than the sum of its parts.
Asha Zero makes collages for a living, but we’ll get onto that in a moment, because there is a bigger question begging to be asked. So what’s your real name, Asha?
It is a question easily answered, because his real name – hello, hello? Okay, I can hear you now – is Asha Zero.
He has the ID document to prove it, the dividend of a disarmingly painless submission to the Department of Home Affairs: “I didn’t think they’d go for it, but I wrote this weird poetic kind of thing, paid the money, and I got the change, no questions asked. There is a legal Asha Zero.”
The other way he is making a name for himself, is through his art. Edgy, Punky cut-ups, sliced & diced from magazines, newspapers, and the Net, and re-assembled on board with all the crazy dedication of Dr Frankenstein in his lab.
Except crazier, because these aren’t mixed-media collages after all, but painstakingly painted replications of paper collages, down to the last tear, rip, and wrinkle.
Here a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, there a model’s naked torso, there a snip of an advertising slogan, there a scribble and a scrawl on an urban wall. All in acrylic, and all on board.
It is only when you set your gaze to macro that you can appreciate the photorealistic intensity of the technique, and even then, you may not believe your eyes.
“I started playing around with collage for my own amusement,” says Asha, a Fine Arts graduate from Pretoria Technikon, now Tshwane University.
“For some reason, one day, I just thought, yis, if I could make a painting that looked like a collage, that would be pretty cool. It turned out a lot better than I thought. One of my friends checked this thing out, and they thought it was a collage…I couldn’t believe they couldn’t see it was a painting.”
It is this sly conceit, and a playful preoccupation with his own shifting identity, that has made Asha Zero a darling of investors, collectors, and gallerists, quadrupling the value of his stock in the space of a year, and earning him a solo show this October at the Black Rat Press in London.
It was only an age and a world ago that the artist, now 33, was a teenage skatepunk in Kempton Park, ramping with his buddies in the parking lot of an abandoned mall, and listening to electronic music of the dark, trippy, doodling variety, played loud enough to drown out the roar of Jumbos overhead.
He drew, too, Bic on foolscap, hard-line renditions of Airwolf and other icons of 80s Pop culture.
Then the music drew him to the band posters, and the posters drew him to art, and the art drew him to Dada, with its freewheeling collisions of sound and poetry and graphic design.
Armed with his diploma, he invented a persona for himself, a name beyond gender and culture, encircled by the symbol of infinity and nothingness and the base-point of the binary system. Zero.
“It has become my brand as well as my identity,” he says, “a very cyber kind of thing, like an avatar on the Internet, where you can be anyone you want to be. But really, it’s not meant to be a synonym for anyone else. It’s just my name. Asha Zero is Asha Zero.”
And now, as he sits in his studio in Cape Town, laying out the hard-copy collages that will become the paintings that are sold before he even begins working on them, one thing is for certain: soon, Asha Zero will be adding a lot more zeroes to his name.
About a year ago, Asha Zero’s 30 X 40cm acrylic paintings of collages were selling for R7,000 at the 34 Long Fine Art gallery in Cape Town.
As the buzz spread, so the artist’s stock soared, and by the end of the year, a 60 X 40cm work entitled “Assorted bystander ( Two )” sold for £2,880 (estimate £600 to £800) at the Bohams London Urban Art Auction.
At a Stephan Welz and Sotheby’s auction in Johannesburg a 30 X 40cm work called “Competacletz” sold for R22,400 at, from an estimate of between R5,000 and R7,000.
His works are now in great demand, as he prepares for a solo show at the Black Rat Press in London, where his 30 X 40cm works will carry a tag of £2,000.
For more information on Asha Zero, contact the 34 Long Fine Art allery on 021 426-4594, or visit www.34long.com.