Asha Zero: The Teenage Skatepunk Who Took On the World. (And no, they’re not collages. They’re hyper-detailed, meticulous paintings of collages. And yes, Asha Zero is his real name.)


“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.

Want one?

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




The Art of Making Artworks On An iPhone

The Universe, born in a Big Bang of matter expanding to the edges of infinity, appears to be heading in the opposite direction these days. In ever-narrowing circles, the boundaries of space and time are shifting, shrinking, contracting, as our – sorry, what? – attention-spans wither under the weight of too much information.

We type our thoughts in tweets, we swallow the News in bites, we listen to songs that are only as long as the ringtones on a cellular phone.

Small wonder, then, that the big thing in the world of fine arts right now, is a little thing. The screen of an iPhone, no bigger than a business card, and on it, an application called Brushes.

Except, you don’t use brushes, you use your finger, skating and gliding on glass to produce finely-nuanced masterworks of texture, colour, and tone.

Well, you, maybe; all I could manage was infantile doodles, and psychotic scribblings to conceal the infantile doodles. So I took my iPhone to some real artists, and asked them to have a go.

First up was Matthew Hindley, a classically-trained painter whose studio affords him a picture-postcard view of Table Mountain. But he ignores it, and labours on wall-sized canvasses of people posed in sensual, unsettling scenarios.

He was instantly intrigued by the phone, and asked if he could use it to take a photograph, and then use that as the basis for a painting. Yes.

He snapped a photograph of a photograph: two women on the floor, one holding a gun under her chin, the other studiously contemplating her own black-stockinged knee.

Matthew, who is used to working with computers, needed no briefing on the way Brushes works; in fact, he showed me how to zoom and pan the tiny canvas, while I stood and scratched my head.

I left him to my own device, and when I returned a couple of hours later, he had finessed that cold tableau into something very bold and painterly, with a feel of chalk and acrylic, and he had added a fluttering dove and a thunderstorm into the scene for good measure.

He was smiling, surprised and satisfied with his Lilliputian fingerwork, and that night, he tweeted about how much he’d enjoyed it.

Back in Johannesburg, I handed my iPhone to Lindsay Jaehne, an artist and art teacher. It was love at first touch.

She learned the basics – choosing colour, texture and line, undoing mistakes, magnifying details by up to 800 percent – with the ease of a three-year-old, and then she rushed home to do some painting.

She produced a whole gallery of marvellous miniatures: nudes, landscapes, still-lifes, in styles that stretched her own boundaries, even as the technology constrained them.

She was thrilled by the paradox, and by the no-mess, no-fuss, pick-it-up and put-it-down nature of the app: “It invites you to play,” she said, “and you become less prescriptive in yourself. It opens up space and opportunity in your mind. It brings new things. To lie in bed and produce a work of art…that, to me, is amazing.”

Then I let Roy Blumenthal go wild. He is a 21st Century Bohemian, a poet and stand-up comic, although he earns his living as a “visual facilitator”, using a tablet PC to sketch notated caricatures of speakers at seminars, projected live on a screen as an antidote to PowerPoint.

Swapping his customary stylus for an index-finger, he swiftly got to work on the iPhone, knocking-off a scarily accurate likeness of me in a couple of minutes.

Then he spent some quality time crafting a trilogy of works – a portrait, a collage-style sketch, and an insect study – that somehow managed to look loose and intense at the same time.

He was more critical of the phone’s limitations, particularly its battery-life, but still, he said I’d have to prise it from his hand when next we met, so I had to take along a chisel.

So is the iPhone the future of fine art? Of course not. But it is an easel and a canvas and a palette that you can slip into your pocket, and if you don’t feel like making art with it, well, you can always make a call.


*From today’s edition of The Weekender