CityLife Arts

Patrick Seruwu: Chatting his own art identity after learning from collagist Benon Lutaaya

His first solo exhibition Silent Moments is on at Lizamore & Associates Gallery till November 30, 2020

By Edward Tsumele

On the surface of it, to many people in the visual arts sector, he was simply known as the late hugely talented collagist Benon Lutaaya‘s friend from back home in Kapmpala, Uganda.

However, to others more dismissive and cynical, he was just Benon’s driver. However what many people did not know was that behind that façade of simplicity and humility, lay an ambitious artist in the making.

And yes, he was all that what people said about him, including being Benon’s friend (they had known each other for more than 20 years as they went to the same high school in Kampala), and yes he also drove Benon around in Johannesburg, before the multi-award winning collagist bought his own car when he became a hugely successful contemporary artist in South Africa, with an illustrious exhibition record.

Most of his exhibitions included mainly sold out shows, and received several commissions from influential individuals and institutions in South Africa, making him one of the most sought after contemporary artists of his generation. He remarkably achieved all this within a short space of art practice in South Africa.

He also won residencies around the world as the art community, especially collectors embraced Lutaaya’s talent. However what many people did not know was that for all the years the one time hair salon owner turned painter and collagist, Patrick Seruwu has spent, driving Benon around and hanging out with him, Seruwu, was a willing apprentice artist that his home boy, Benon took under his wings.

He taught him patiently about everything he needed to know about art, style and its techniques. And today, the investment he made in himself as a learner artist, is now paying off, as he, like his Late mentor and friend, Benon, is starting to make a mark on the local contemporary art scene, with his clearly Benon influenced collages and his paintings.

Like his mentor Seruwu’s works are being embraced by the market, in some cases, even selling out at exhibitions. “How it started is that one day, Benon sat me down and said, my friend running a hair salon was not a sustainable business and was not a career that I could rely on.

He even suggested that perhaps we should collaborate on a business that was going to be sustainable, in which he would also invest. “To Benon’s surprise and perhaps even disappointment, I told him straight that I wanted to be an artist. He advised against that option, telling me that I was not going to succeed because practising as an artist is hard and needs 100 percent dedication.

I kept quiet and did not discuss the issue further. But because I always hung out around him, including in his studio, observing him as he worked, I surprised him one day. He went out of the studio for a long time one day, while I remained there. I started sketching a portrait of a lady who was in the studio with me.

When Benon came back, I surprised him by showing him the sketch I had done. He was genuinely stunned. He told me that yes, there was something there, and he thought I probably could be an artist,” Seruwu explained in an interview with CITYLIFE/ARTS this week how he patiently learned from Benon, until he became an artist himself.

From there onwards Benon gave Seruwu an opportunity to work with him, assisting him as he made his famous collages that earned him both fame and perhaps, even fortune before his demise. “Benon started to take me seriously as he guided me through the art making process. He bought me material, paint and everything that I needed.

My confidence developed and so did Benon’s confidence in me, to an extent that in 2017, we collaborated on a collage work that was bought as soon as it was finished. I was so excited about achieving this first sale. I never stopped from there as I continued to learn and work with Benon. I was so confident that I stopped working in the salon altogether, handing over the business to my girlfriend.

“As my art career took centre stage, and collectors loved my work, I closed the hair salon business altogether to become a full time artist,” Seruwu explained how his art career developed. And indeed by the time Benon died in 2019, his mentee was fast consolidating his foot hold on the art scene, concentrating mainly on paintings, and he was growing as an independent artist with his own visual voice becoming distinct and different from his mentor, even when it came to collage making.

“Last year after Benon’s death Lizamore Gallery commissioned a number of artists, mainly artists who knew Benon, and were close to him, to create commemorative works that they exhibited. I was one of them, and to commemorate the life of Benon, I crated five commemorative collages and named them Memory 1 to Memory 5. All of them sold out,” he revealed.

The same year, Seruwu participated in the RMB Art Fair, creating five more collage art works, mainly to raise money to assist fund one of Benon’s close to-the heart, legacy projects, The Project Space that sees a female South African artist chosen each year for a residency that is fully funded.

“Four of those five pieces were sold, and the fifth one that remained, is now heading to the Art Bank. Although I have been doing well with collages, what I want to focus on though is painting,” Seruwu said.

And paintings form part of his first solo exhibition at Lizamore &Associates Gallery in Fairland, West of Johannesburg, entitled Silent Moments, and the response so far is pleasing, with seven works snatched by collectors just as the exhibition opened, demonstrating the fact that Seruwa is one of the contemporary visual artists to look out for right now in South Africa.

He got this exhibition after being selected as a resident artist for the Stegman Residency by Lizamore & Associates Gallery last year, after the impressive performance of his five collages that were exhibited in the group exhibition commemorating the late Benon at the gallery. Other places where Seruwu has taken his work is the Investec Cape Town Art Fair in 2019 when a Johannesburg Art Gallery took it there, exposing the artist to international collectors.

“This exhibition, Silent Moments is dedicated to women. Women are close to my heart because to start with, I was brought up by a single mother, and when I came to South Africa in 2009, even before Benon came over, following his winning of a residency at Bag Factory, it is women who took me from the streets.

“I worked with women in the hair salon business, and I understood their daily struggles as women, especially when they leave their homes coming to a city like Johannesburg, thinking that they will make fortunes, only to find out later that actually, that is not the case. It is in recognition of these challenges women face in a big city like Johannesburg, that I dedicate this exhibition to them. Encouragingly, the response from collectors has been so good that it might even be sold out by the time it ends on November 30,” he said.

Besides working on his art, Seruwu is one of a group of influential art figures in South Africa who are making sure that The Project Space, a legacy project of the late Benon continues to do what it always did when the founder was still alive.

“I have been joined by other influential people in the art world as directors who must make sure that Benon’s legacy continues as that is what he would have loved to see happen were he still with us,” reflects Seruwu as we conclude the interview at August House, Inner city Johannesburg, this week.

You can connect with Patrick Seruwu on:



Facebook. Patrick Seruwu .

Silent Moments is on at Lizamore & Associates Gallery 3 Hetty Avenue, Fairland, Johannesburg, till November 30, 20202.

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