Monday, 9 November 2009

21.1 / It's Saal good / Michael Saal

What: Designer, illustrator and art director
Where: Cape Town, South Africa
Websites: Mike Saal and Gods And Gangsters

Behind the mask…
I freelance as a designer, illustrator and art director for advertising agencies and on the side I paint, draw, create whatever, collaborate with other artists, take photographs and stare into space. I grew up in Mitchell's Plain, Cape Town, South Africa – also known as the Cape Flats. A strange place full of scary people who control the most notorious gangs in South Africa. I spent most of my time avoiding this reality by daydreaming and playing Nintendo TV games and watching TV. When I wasn't playing games I was running around bumping my head on walls or falling off bicycles, double bunk beds, skateboards, fences and roller skates. Eventually I was sentenced to 12 years of brutal, mind-numbing, miserable, painful and embarrassing school. Somewhere around the end of my sentence I ditched the accounting class. I heard rumours that kids just talked and listened to music in art class and I thought that's the lifestyle for me. There I discovered a funny kind of joy in making pictures and I kept at it.

I graduated from the Nintendo to PC games in my teens and accidentally discovered Photoshop. It was an exciting tool to twist the world into strange shapes. That was probably the beginning. I can't be sure. I don't remember much before the age of 18. The doctor said this is the result of all my concussions. But I do remember graffiti. That came later. I joined NME crew in Mitchell's Plain and we painted together, drank together and risked our lives together. I learnt a lot from the amazingly talented people in the local scene. That was also around the time when street art started to bloom in Cape Town and there were fun group shows to be a part of. All in all, I'd say I learnt most of what I know from painting, interacting with the artists around me and the internet for information and inspiration.

I read interviews of amazing artists and they say that when they were kids they were always drawing, inventing hydraulic systems and teapots made out of tea bags… and I think to myself, I never did any of that. All I did was daydream, play TV games, bump my head and make flaming patterns in the driveway with petrol when my parents were not home. I don't bump my head as much as I used to but I still daydream a lot.

Getting good results in high school art and encouragement from friends and family kept me on the path.

In the pipeline…
I'm building a very tall hill. A lot of awesome artists are helping me and when It's done we are going to the top to shout into the heavens. It's also a zine called Gods and Gangsters, filled with design, illustration, photography and writing. Some people think it's a movie about Jacob Zuma, Al Pacino and Jennifer Lopez and all the things they did at a dinner party together but I assure you that's not true. It's just a rumour to discredit my name.


When the coin lands on heads, I manufacture mayhem with a collective called BLKROK, which consists of a writer, keyboard player, designer/illustrator, skateboarder, mixed blood alsatian, a tambourine player and a struggling poet that's learning to play the guitar. It's a top secret project so I can't say much more. I'm already in kak for just mentioning the name.


I'm freelancing on other design jobs for advertising agencies. Most of the time for the good people at Matchboxology. They specialise in creating campaigns for HIV/AIDS awareness in South Africa.

Peaks and troughs…
I like that I can get lost in my work and transport myself to amazing places. I like working with with musicians. I like the freedom. I like making work that could have a positive impact on people's lives. I like that I don't have office hours.


I dislike being part of an industry that makes useless products that molest people's minds and destroy everything good and wholesome in the world. I dislike that I have to do this kind of work now and then to pay the bills.

I grew up in Mitchell's Plain but I spent most of my time in my daydreams and lost in TV-game-land. School was boring as hell and so was Mitchell's Plain. I desperately wanted to be free from both as soon as possible. I was tired of living in a place where strangers would insult you if you looked or acted different to the norm. I was trapped in the land of the automaton and I was greatly outnumbered. I had to sneak around at night and disguise myself as newspapers blowing in the wind. Urban camouflage for a mild mannered Michael.


Family was the foundation that I needed to do become confident in what I do. When I was a kid, my older sister kept telling me that I was talented and clever and that I could do anything I wanted to do. That was the key factor in my learning how to become a confident young artist.

My family is like an experiment. One day a scientist called Dr. Skoene decided that he wanted to make a strange fury monster with five heads cut from different types of African animals. Each head spoke a different language and the only thing they had in common was their body. But the monster was strong and clever and it made me some legs and arms from pieces of driftwood and corrugated tin and it took my head and connected it to the limbs and set me loose on an unsuspecting public. The monster has always been supportive of my career decisions. I don't know what I'd do without the fury beast. It made me who I am today, a wobbly nobbly head.

I collect embarrassing moments, mainly when I'm drunk. I write them down on the back of grocery receipts and I keep them in my flatmate's yellow teapot. I dont know why I collect them. I have a feeling they'll be useful one day.

I think my creativity comes in waves. I go with the flow. Sometimes I won't feel inspired and I won't be motivated to kickstart my engine and when that happens I try to stay calm. I increase my bath frequency to one a day and I relax or exercise. I try eating vegetables and fruit and then I watch a movie to forget about work. This can last for days or weeks but when the creative wave starts climbing I grab it and I ride it like I stole it.

Favourite things…
Koh Yao Noi, bands that record in their living room, Ernest Hemingway's book 'A Moveable Feast', friends, grapefruit, soya burgers, flaming meteorites, hysterical laughter, people that use the f-word in public and people that don't wear matching socks.

I like switching my brain off. I'm obsessed with movies and staring at fires. I can do either for a very long. I justify both as research.
Time travel…
If I could go back in time I'd take my flatmate's yellow teapot with me and not do all the things I wrote on the back of grocery receipts. I'd also take a good book with me because I figure it would be really boring living in a world which can't surprise you. I don't know if I should do anything differently either. That old professor guy in Back to the Future kept warning Michael J Fox not to interfere with his past and his mother was starting to dig his bones and there's a scary scene where she tries to kiss him, which is wrong.

Amazing people…
Jeepers, the list is huge. I tried to write down their names but I know I will forget someone. Basically all of my friends.

Right now…
There are some BLKROK projects on the way. A series of experiments in light and sound. Top secret. Need to know basis only. Confidential and highly sensitive.

I figure I'm already living my dream life. The only thing that is missing is a catapult big enough to launch a car through a desert landscape.
Follow a path with heart. If your heart is in it, you will do whatever it takes to get you where you want to be.


francesconassimbeni said...

super interesting,
candid and fun to look at,
very interesting magazine.

Anonymous said...

very enjoyable reading. what an interesting person you are Michael. i love that you write experiencestuff on the backs of grocery receipts...i do similar stuff. i get them out and laugh when i need to.
thanks for the good reading.

ed hardy said...

I really like this article and have enjoyed reading. Nice article, love the post.

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