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Restyling Africa’s Image One Brush Stroke At A Time

South African artist Conor McCreedy is making waves in the tough and competitive New York art world at the tender age of 24.

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Who would have thought that a New York removal man would help turn a budding young artist into a history maker? Well, that’s exactly what happened to South African Conor McCreedy.

A helping hand moving a carpet up to his apartment helped land McCreedy his first solo exhibition, at the National Arts Club jsut down the road—the youngest artist to do so.

“I bought an old third-hand carpet from Iran at an old vintage store and I needed someone to help me move it. So we went to my studio, a four-flight walk up the stairs, and he comes up and sees all this art that I’m working on, adorned on my walls, and he’s like: ‘Holy shit, man, this stuff is crazy! You know what? You’ve got to meet someone.’”

McCreedy moved to New York knowing no one, and having spent most of his youth between a secluded boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal and his home in the gated Melrose suburb of Johannesburg. The last thing the 2005 Hilton College alumnus, with a distinction in art, thought was that this removal man would introduce him to the president of New York’s historic NAC.

The art club, located in the Tilden Mansion in Gramercy Park New York, was founded in 1898. It has an exclusive invitation-only membership, which included three former United States presidents:  Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Dwight D. Eisenhower. It also included some of the country’s most important artists and art patrons, such as Andy Warhol.

“I went to boarding school. I know you should never assume, but I did assume. I thought someone who is a mover is not really going to help someone in the art world. I was at a young, tender age and was a bit ignorant.

“He said: ‘You need to go to the NAC—the president of the club is waiting for you.’ So I was like, ‘What is that?’ and he said, ‘Yo, you big dummy, it’s across the street from you—it’s the most historic club in America.’”

It led to an introduction with Alden Jones Junior, NAC president. This meeting saw a solo exhibition for McCreedy, titled Outliers, in 2010.

“That really opened up doors for me; it kind of put me on the map and allowed the world to know who I was and what I was doing. It really helped a lot.”

McCreedy has moved away from styles that made his name, painting abstract animals and portraits, to creating more abstract images with his own style, painting in blues on fine linen.

“You don’t have to paint zebras and giraffes to paint Africa. South African art in New York is quite a niche market. It’s still African art, although some is being created here and some in New York. It is where I feel my proper outlet is now. You finally find your niche; mine is now in blues. Big giant pigments on Belgian linen, French linen and the finest linen you can find, and it’s this big explosion of an ocean. We live in a volatile world, so when you create these oceans, people get lost in this beautiful array of blues. And they like that because it’s kind of like what the ocean does to you.”

His change in style is not only tied to his artistic growth, but also his African roots. With an awareness of the continent’s image among many in the Western world, McCreedy wants his work to change perceptions about Africa and African art.

“I’m trying to get the Western world to understand that Africa is not as bad or poverty stricken as the world sees it. India is way worse, and the poverty in India is so bad, yet they have better investments and the right type of investments going into India, which we do not have.

“We have Bill Gates, who is sending all these mosquito nets into, let us say Malawi, for instance, which is great. But it is not the right investment because what he is doing is putting the guy in Malawi, who is making the mosquito nets right out of business, because you can’t beat something that is for free.

“And we have these advertisements; you see them all over [the world], like ‘Incredible India’—you never see ‘Astonishing Africa’ or ‘Amazing Africa’, you don’t see that.”

Conor McCreedy hopes to change all of this with his blue brush strokes.

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