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June 23, 2017

An Interview By Mike Abel For Wanted Magazine

Mike Abel quizzes Cape Town contemporary artist and sculpture, Paul Edmunds about life and his love for olives.


Describe the colour yellow to a blind person. My brother’s old bedroom had yellow curtains (it was the 80s). It was eggy and womb-like.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV? In 1993 I lived in Paris on R15 a day. Also, as a kid I won a cereal-eating contest.

What are you known for? My work often involves unusual materials and labour-intensive processes.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. Cut a carrot into ribbons; slice some small salad onions obliquely; stone and halve some black olives. Mix these with lemon juice and crushed chili. Leave for an hour, stirring regularly. It’s all about the olives.

What inspires you? Anything that compels me with its colour, texture, form, scent or sound.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? I’ve never had TV, though I do stream things these days. Most recently I streamed a Graham Norton Show. It’s hilarious.

What was the last gift you gave someone? I gave an old denim jacket to my niece.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? I rarely drive, so I’m probably thinking that my bike makes more sense. Or, I love aircon and this Beachwood Sparks track.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why? A dirty blue. It’s an incidental colour.

How do you handle criticism? My own is harshest, so if someone else’s penetrates, I listen.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? I telepathically encourage my wife to make tea.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. I regularly help old folks cross the road.

What do you worry about, and why?The loss of mature trees in my neigbourhood and on the planet worries me. I’ll worry more if I have to explain why.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? Possibly success is never doing things you don’t want to. That can be a case of, ‘If you can’t be with the one you love, then love the one you’re with’.

Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure? I exaggerated the seriousness of my practice, and bought the myth of the suffering artist. I was able to step back and formulate a more agile approach, a lighter touch which does not preclude the possibility of seriousness.

Would you rather be liked or respected? Both, please.

What is the last book you read? ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’ by Norman Doidge.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? ‘Who’d Have Thought?’

What makes you angry? Our lack of civility.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it?
Early on I struggled to sell work, so I made an exhibition which was unsellable. It was tremendously liberating, and had a paradoxical effect on my career.

What’s your most significant project? Tell me about it. What did you get/reach? How? Soon after my father died, I produced a show called ‘Season’, which explored how I was drawn into a more intimate relationship with natural phenomena during this time. My gallery didn’t quite get it; sales were poor. Ultimately I was liberated from what was a dysfunctional relationship with them and I took the opportunity to re-examine my approach.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be?A little je ne sais quoi and a bunch of What the F*#@!



June 23, 2017

By Mike Abel for Daily Maverick

So many of the truths we tell ourselves each day are based on ill-informed perceptions based on historic behaviour. To succeed today, we need to base our decisions on what makes sense for us, not just based on past behaviour and past wisdoms.


Image source: Pixabay

The least popular article I’ve ever written was on promoting a “culture of sharing”. It focused on the point that given the stark differences between the “have-nots” and “have-lots”, by adopting true generosity of spirit and believing that one’s own talents needn’t be used exclusively for self-enrichment, but also to the benefit of many others. But people clearly don’t like to share; however, I would wager that a successful future, as defined in many different ways, will positively impact those who put non-ownership, non-exclusivity and sharing at the centre of their lives, orientation and business models.

It is oft commented upon that the largest taxi company in the world owns no taxis (Uber). The biggest hotel company in the world owns no hotels (Airbnb) and one of the biggest global retailers (Amazon) owns no stores – other than a few, new experimental and experiential ones – (which I’ll come back to later). And while some may think these business examples may not point to a fundamentally different future, business and social model, I strongly believe they do. And it’s a marvellous future if we choose to embrace it.

I was getting a lift to a business dinner last week when the Uber driver asked me if I had a car.”Yes’’, I replied,”but I don’t drink and drive.” He then asked me if I use my car during the day at work. “Very little,” I responded. “Other than taking my kids to school I don’t drive much.” So, he asked me why I own a car, and why don’t I rather call an Uber each morning. He said “think of how much money you would save on car payments, petrol, depreciation, servicing and insurance”. Needless to say, I was fascinated this young man was giving me such sage advice – and although I had considered the full cost of ownership from time to time (having spent 15 years of my life helping market cars) I had never really applied the maths to my own situation. The benefits of doing precisely this suggested the Uber trick would save me a lot of money each month. Extrapolated over a year – and then over the next 20 years – I wasn’t making a decision that equated to saving thousands of rands a month, but well over a million rand over the next critical period of my work life towards retirement.

The next thought which occurred to me is why do most people in office-based jobs have cars sitting all day in high-rise garages not being used? Why are these depreciating assets, should you feel the emotional need to own them, not working for you when you are not using them? Why don’t you arrive at work in the morning, hand your car over to a driver, and have you both working your asset, before you need to head home?

But then I thought, well, in 10 years’ time, self-driving cars will pretty much be the order of the day, so what does that look like. Very different. If you choose to own a car, it will drop you at work and instead of parking it in your office building, at say R1,700 per month, it can simply head back home – or it can be open-source to accept secondary taxi bookings throughout the day, go past a car wash an hour before you require it again, and then head back to the primary user (you). The impact of this little idea has many positive implications. Not only are you now sweating a depreciating asset, you’re saving monthly parking costs, providing transport for others, using tyres more (growing an industry), using car washes more (can be waterless), short-term insurance can be saved as there can be a nominal top-up charged for cover to each new passenger and here’s a biggie, parking garages won’t be as necessary any more. So, parking garages can be used for inner-city accommodation and growing urbanisation. It can help become an instant low-cost solution to affordable housing problems.

For a few years now, I’ve been wanting to put disenfranchised parties together: the elderly who may be lonely, no longer have jobs (but have energy, skill, wisdom, and often good values) and our many, many orphans who have youth, eagerness, need love, attention and to gain schools. I’ve wanted to combine orphanages and old-age homes into one solution that combines schooling and subsistence farming, very much like the Israeli Kibbutz system, whereby playing to each parties’ needs, strengths and weaknesses, you develop an ecosystem that works. Instead of Corporates donating funds to various charities they have little involvement in, they can play an active role in these ecosystems whereby even employees reaching retirement need not see it as a terrifying prospect of irrelevance and poverty but as a meaningful new chapter in their lives.

Advertising (mea culpa) can often position retirement as “the golden years” but as we know, very few can actually afford to retire well. And if you can, then with meaning.

Viktor Frankl, renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, writes in his definitive book, Man’s Search For Meaning, that we need three essential things to be happy: someone to love, something to do, and something to look forward to. Retirement often leaves us with only one or even less of these needs.

Here’s an interesting story – the point of which I’ll get to: My late grandfather, Dr Phillip Perl, told me many wonderful stories and shared many wisdoms. At the age of 16 he travelled with his Lithuanian immigrant father Sholom (a cattle trader) on their ox wagon from Uitenhage to Port Elizabeth, boarded a ship, alone, which took him to London to study at the Royal College of Dentistry. He would not see his family for another six years. There was no e-mail, there were no cellphones and no flights. You had to be a very brave young man to undertake such an adventure. But my great-grandfather knew his son was bright and wanted to provide this wonderful opportunity to him.

On returning to Port Elizabeth, he opened his dental practice and within a few months the drill-bit (a pedal-drill no less) flew off the machine and blinded him in one eye. With impaired depth perception, he considered what his career prospects held and concluded that if he concentrated on what he had, versus that which he didn’t, he could still have a long and distinguished dental career. He would just need to ask his nurse, or in more complicated cases, his dental partners, to help him compensate visually, if there was a particular issue regarding depth – especially for root canal and deep drilling. He also had decided to do more for society, so throughout apartheid he donated every Thursday to working for free at the Livingstone Hospital (an exclusively black hospital) as their honorary head of maxillofacial surgery for over 30 years. So, after a lifetime of working, he retired, on a Friday, at the age of 60 with my grandmother, Lily, to the Wilderness, the seaside hamlet along the Garden Route.

On the Saturday morning, he and my gran took a long walk along the beach and asked themselves if this was indeed what the rest of their lives looked like. On Monday morning, my grandfather was back in his surgery and practised another 21 years until the age of 81 when he finally called it a day. He then actively played the stock market for another 12 years, before passing on.

So, what is the point of the story? So many of the truths we tell ourselves each day are based on ill-informed perceptions based on historic behaviour. To succeed today, we need to base our decisions on what makes sense for us, not just based on past behaviour and past wisdoms. We don’t need to always own our cars, we don’t need to retire at 65, we won’t find fulfilment in assets and just owning things, but in meaningful connections and soul-stretching experiences. We can put two or three broken parts of society together so as to fix them all. We need to be far more flexible and creative about how we view the world.

I look at the way my sons (aged nine, 14 and 16) curate their media, connect with friends, confront a borderless world, consider their futures and in part, I’m filled with great hope – but also, fear. For society and even businesses to keep up with this generation, they’ll need to rethink so much of what worked before in business and everyday life, because they are short on rules and long on possibility. And they know how to share. Content, experiences, collaborate, cohabitate, co-create – it’s wide open if our generation starts to embrace a culture of sharing versus ownership and the mistaken pursuit of wealth creation as the destination in and of itself.

Source: Daily Maverick


June 21, 2017

Article Written By Jason Harrison, Founding Partner and Group MD At M&C Saatchi Abel.

Jason says that, at its core, success is a ‘result’ of something. Achievement is the ‘effect’ of something.


I recently returned from an inspiring and thought-provoking trip to New York, where the M&C Saatchi global network of 29 offices met for three days.

A fantastic highlight was a keynote speech from the CEO of HBO, Richard Plepler. He talked about the journey HBO had been on since the absolute success of Soprano’s all those years back, then a hugely troublesome patch in the early 2000’s to how their resurgence was driven by a complete re-orientation around ensuring they put ‘creativity back at the heart of company’.

He credited this creative re-orientation for their absolute resurgence as a broadcaster (heard of Game of Thrones?), a place that now works in service of the creative community of screenwriters, directors, and actors, as well as an innovation pipeline that allows content to flow wherever and whenever consumers want it. By all accounts a very successful company.

There were a lot of lessons, but he said one thing which landed like a tonne of bricks for me, personally – ‘a huge learning for us was not confusing success and achievement because they are two very different things’.

He didn’t unpack it further than that, but whether you are a business or an individual, I believe it’s right in every single way. Success is fleeting and ever changing. We chase it relentlessly in a hyper-competitive world, but it usually only resonates with a few.

Achievement is more enduring, more fulfilling. It resonates with everyone because it has purpose hard-wired into it. So how do you keep yourself or your company focused on achievement?

Keep your gratitude higher than your expectations

When you first start out, whether it is in life or your company, you ‘don’t know what you don’t know’. Everything is an adventure, and you are thankful for the simplest of things. You connect around a common purpose; you value the journey and not the destination.

Every small victory is acknowledged and celebrated. You appreciate people and the things they do deeply. Then, somehow, entitlement and expectation become endemic. The equation only works one way. Keep your gratitude higher than your expectations.

Feed your dreams not the machine

One day you wake up and you are turning the hamster wheels of industry. The beast needs to be fed. You did 20% this year, well then, 30% next year is the only option. You finished top three, well then, number one is the only measure of success now.

You forget your ‘why’ and only concentrate on ‘how’. Stop. Go back to the very beginning. Examine your true purpose. Your reason for being. Use its power to liberate your dreams and your people. Martin Luther King said, ‘I have a dream’, not ‘I have a plan’. Feed your dreams, not the machine.

Look inwards, not outwards

Success is celebrated on the outside; achievement is celebrated on the inside. When you start to drink your own proverbial Kool-Aid because of external acknowledgement, awards, or recognition, you lose focus.

You play for the crowd, not for each other. Rather focus on what really matters most to you, or your company. Shape that relentlessly. Hold yourself (and each other) accountable to your own high standards and measures because when you achieve them, you unlock true fulfilment for everybody. Look inwards, not outwards.

The good news is that achievement is an everyday thing. It is all around us. It just needs to surface with a simple question at the end of every day – ‘what did we achieve today, and what are we going to achieve tomorrow?’ All else follows.


June 14, 2017

An Interview By Mike Abel For Wanted Magazine.

Mike Abel posts some quirky questions to Cape Town-based graphic and collage Artist Galia Gluckman.


Image source:

Describe the colour yellow to somebody who is blind. Friendly, warm, honest, happy.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? My mother is my art mentor. Although she lives overseas, I regularly discuss my work with her through images. My mother has educated me and influenced my approach. She never gives criticism or advice, yet has been my ultimate teacher in life and work.

What are you known for? Being a Jewish artist who works with paint and paper.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. Most people are good. Most people are loved by someone.


What inspires you? Inspiration comes from both personal happiness and pain. Inspiration comes from working. The repetitive cutting and pasting technique that my work requires, is a form of meditation and therefore inspiring. I am also inspired by the symmetry and asymmetry found in nature and architecture.

What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? I don’t watch TV, except for the news. The last thing I watch on our TV was a beautiful film called Lion. It moved me deeply.

What was the last gift you gave someone? A Pichulik necklace by South African designer Katherine-May Pichulik.

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? I usually have too many “tabs” open in my head. Thoughts could range from:  family members, friends, contemplating an artwork I am busy with and possibly reaffirming my attitude of gratitude.

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What colour would you be and why? I would be midnight blue, because I am a night owl at heart. Midnight blue goes well with most colours. It’s a lover, not a fighter.

How do you handle criticism? I handle it better when it comes from people who know me well and who I love.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? I check my cellphone to see if I can snooze for five more minutes.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. Saved water while showering. It was the right thing to do, but nobody saw me!

What do you worry about, and why? Complacency. It’s a silent killer.

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? I believe that success is excelling at something which you are passionate about. There is no success unless you love and are loved by your inner circle of family and friends. Success is wisdom, success is knowing we are all flawed but loveable. Success is peace of mind, which comes from being the best you are capable of becoming. I am a work in progress, working towards being successful.

Would you rather be liked or respected? Respected.

What is the last book you read? Who moved my cheese? By Dr Spencer Johnson

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be?For the love of family, art and life.

What makes you angry? Injustice.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it?Moving from New York back to Cape Town after 14 years.  Why move when you are happy? Because you can be even happier!

In 2010, I was commissioned by the Mayor of Great Neck, New York to do the artwork for an outdoor mosaic mural. It was a great honor to have done an official public artwork in collaboration with mosaics artist Jane Du Rand.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be? One piece at a time


June 9, 2017
An Article Written By Mike Abel for Daily Maverick.
Factual, parable, metaphor or bullshit, depending on your beliefs, this simplistic story from biblical times talks to the ease with which humans can become divided.

Image Source:

Sit in a cinema or theatre anywhere in the world, and watch a show or movie. A most curious thing happens. Whether you are in China, Brazil, America, Russia, Peru or South Africa, everyone, irrespective of which country you are in, will laugh at same moments – and will cry at the same moments. It’s called the human condition. A common empathy.

You’ll feel the same outrage and determination for freedom as the French felt during the 1789 revolution, as beautifully captured in Les Misrables, you’ll be drained by the agony and despair of the Vietnam War as captured in Miss Saigon. You’ll all be willing Rocky to get off the ropes and fight on.

But leave the theatre and this world of suspended reality, of common humanity, where one momentarily sheds one’s life-learned prejudice, and it’s as if the human fracture of the Tower of Babel re-emerges. We become instantly divided again.

The original story of this tower is captured in the book of Genesis. Where a common people, with a singular purpose and language, decide to build a tower so high that it can reach the heavens. This enrages a loving God to such an extent that “He” thwarts their efforts by giving the builders multiple new languages. They can no longer communicate effectively and are now, essentially, a divided people. They abandon their quest for the heavens and go on their way to start different civilizations to one another.

Factual, parable, metaphor or bullshit, depending on your beliefs, this simplistic story from biblical times talks to the ease with which humans can become divided. In this instance, language. A “dislike of the unlike” as my late grandfather would say.

Now, were the President of the United States to appear on CNN tonight, Morgan Freeman style, and deliver a “My fellow Americans” speech (you know the script), informing us that there is a planet-ending meteorite on a direct collision course with Earth, we’d all immediately be transferred back into the mode of a common humanity, with a singular purpose, to solve this life-threatening crisis – and once averted (be that a good thing) we’d revert to our life-learned, divisive and competitive behaviour. An absence, if you will, of a universal love and generosity of spirit, which I actually believe is inherent in our birth DNA but lost during our childhood passage.

From day one, we are taught to judge, divide and separate – benign or not. Boy. Girl. Blue. Pink. Cars. Dolls. Race. Language. Religion. Culture. Sexual Orientation. Ethnicity. The list goes on. On the life journey, we learn to remove reality from our mindset and to be separated by dogma, which we then blindly and then even subconsciously buy into.

Here’s a simple example of our ability to reframe obvious reality, manipulate context and create a perverse truth:

Queen Victoria, sovereign of the United Kingdom and Empress of India, did not believe women should have the vote and actively opposed the suffragette movement. To anyone looking in, this would rightfully be considered bizarre.

She also happened to marry her first cousin, which at the time was quite normal, but today would be the incestuous equivalent of Prince Harry marrying Princess Beatrice.

So, what’s the point? Well, beyond parental; societal conditioning now plays such an enormous role in getting us to ignore the obvious facts, and to construct our own realities, impervious to reason. And while before this may have been a result of basic, ignorance-based prejudice, today it’s often deliberately seeded via more sinister strategies, like creating fake news.

Before everyone was handed a mini soapbox, in the form of a mobile phone, to spew forth across the universe, prejudice had a relatively limited audience. You’d have the ears of your family, friends and some members of your immediate community. You’d be able to write a letter to the press, and possibly get it published.

Today, however, with the world’s largest populations living in borderless cyber-countries like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, the ability to reframe the truth, sow dissention and create divide has grown exponentially. Similarly, the opportunity for truth, reason, tolerance and “healthy” education has never been greater. Massive forces for good and evil fighting it out daily for airtime, followers, likes and shares.

They say “friends are the family you choose”. This plays itself out in many ways online too, as we see a growing Right, a growing Left and a relatively silent Middle.

To that point, I’m no longer even sure what it means to be liberal versus a Liberal. These descriptors are being hijacked and reframed to support causes or sentiments that are far from liberal but actually societal groups who are highly judgmental and exclusionary. My innocent understanding of the term liberal was around the positive notion and aspects of “live and let live”, yet today it’s seemingly anything but.

In order to bring positive change to the world, we need to unlearn prejudice, reject dogma, and in many ways have a far simpler outlook on reality. We are being exposed to phrases and notions like moral ambiguity and alternate facts to justify agendas. We are seeing government whistle-blowers being positioned as the bad guys. But are they therefore the good guys? It’s not as binary as that.

“My enemy’s enemy is my friend” dictates many of the short-term friendships that develop and grow on social media. If you are united in your dislike for a particular leader, then a friendship of convenience may arise as you seek to destroy a shared enemy. Frenemies.

But what happens after that has been achieved? The fallout of two friends is usually greater than that between strangers, so these convenient alliances could actually be paving the way for future hostilities. Look at America and Russia united in defeating Hitler. And once they’d succeeded, the Cold War.

We live in a time of such marriages of convenience. In South Africa, we have political parties which ideologically couldn’t be more different, but in their efforts to defeat a common enemy, they have found one another in relationships of convenience.

So, let’s return to that cinema example I mentioned upfront in this piece, where you have the political parties sitting together watching, let’s say, Avatar. But they aren’t there in their branded T-shirts or berets, but with their spouses, friends or kids. As ordinary people.

They’ll gasp at the same time, cheer together and even shed a tear together – then walk out of the movie house, full of wonder, and think wouldn’t it be cool to live in Pandora. They won’t say, but the people are blue, so I don’t like them because I am not blue. And they pray to a tree.

Frenemies and marriages of convenience provide two otherwise opposing forces, with a unique opportunity. Through an unlikely association, they can actually choose to get to know one another better.

Each political party in South Africa, or elsewhere, presumably believes they have the magic formula for creating a better life for the citizens of the land. Some parties have evil leadership, sure, as demonstrated by using power as an opportunity to both subjugate and steal. But by and large, each party presumably wants the opportunity to lead their country to what they believe will be a more prosperous future.

Now, imagine if these frenemies determinedly sought to find common ground in their pursuit of a better future. If they used these marriages of convenience to get to know one another better. That instead of looking at the association through jaundiced eyes, it became opportunity-led. This requires unlearning prejudice, it requires dropping the race card, it requires not being protectionist but seeking to do the right thing by all members of society. They say “a rising tide raises all ships”, which it does.

I believe our country is ready for this moment, to find our communal humanity, to share, to create and to build a united future, while other parts of the world are pulling apart.


June 7, 2017

An Interview By Mike Abel For Wanted Magazine.

In the second of his series of interview sessions with leading African artists, Mike Abel of M&C Saatchi Abel chats to Diane Victor and enjoys an impromptu smoke art lesson.


Describe the color yellow to somebody who is blind. I would ask them to go and sit in the early morning sun and let it shine into there face; recognise that warmth and sensation. That’s yellow.

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your CV alone? I have an interest in volcanoes and when I get the chance, I travel to and go hiking or climbing in areas that are volcanically active.

What are you known for? Drawing, printmaking maybe, making satirical images that respond to the physiological and social conditions we live in.

Teach me something I don’t know in the next five minutes. I’ll teach you how to draw with a candle. Light your candle, prop your paper horizontally above your head at an angle, move the candle quickly over the surface not allowing the flame to actually touch the paper. Allow the smoke to leave a soot deposit on the paper. Build the image up slowly, adding and removing tone as you need it. Work fast and fluid. Don’t stop to think with the candles flame on the drawing!

What inspires you? Really strong artwork by other artists. Their passion, skill and ideas make me hungry to work. That and some kind of challenge or risk in a work of my own that I am starting.


What’s the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Probably a news channel like Sky news or CNN – watched while running at the gym – as it is the only time I see TV.  Combining getting news updates and a training run.

What was the last gift you gave someone? It was a data projector to someone who is passionate about movies so they could watch them with better resolution and clarity then on their beat up TV monitor

What do you think about when you’re alone in your car? If not listening to an audio book, I think about the work that I am busy with at the time generally trying to solve its problems

You’re a new addition to the paint box. What color would you be and why? Charcoal Black. With that color you can do anything.

How do you handle criticism? I try and think it through and look for what I can use constructively, try place its reasoning and logic, then discard what I don’t want.

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Drink water.  Go let the dogs out.

Tell me about a time you did the right thing and no one saw you do it. I burned up the drawing that I have been working on for over a week. I didn’t
want to but it didn’t work, so it needed destroying. Don’t keep trying to save things that can’t work

What do you worry about, and why? Drugs, Drs and their respective side effects (that they don’t tell you about).

How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition? For me success is personal freedom: The freedom and independence to do and live as I want, to draw and make images that I believe in, and to managing to make a living from doing this.

Give me an example of when you failed at something. How did you react and how did you overcome failure? I failed at summiting on the relatively easy climb on Kilimanjaro.  It was before the transplant and I got bad altitude sickness on the last stage and decided to give up. I was really angry with myself because everyone else did it. In retrospect it probably was the right decision but it still irks me and it is a place I need to go back to.

Would you rather be liked or respected? Respected. Liked is for Facebook

What is the last book you read? Flashback hotel by Ivan Vladislavich.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what do you think the title should be? Burning the candle at both ends.

What makes you angry? People’s indifference and apathy; the tendency to whinge and do nothing to try change a situation.

What was the biggest risk you ever took and what did you learn from it? I had a kidney transplant. The risk was I wasn’t going to survive with the ones I had. I learnt to live for now, don’t take for granted that tomorrow will be there to do what you really wanted to do today.

What’s your most significant project? Tell me about it, what did you get/reach?How? Difficult to make that call. Maybe “ No country for old women”. It was a large free standing glass altarpiece that I built up drawing with smoke on glass set into steel frames.  It was a response to the ongoing violence against and the killing of woman in our society. It set out to create a memorial to and raise awareness about this never ending cycle of damage. It was shown in various spaces but was original designed for and made to be shown in a church environment.

If you were a brand, what would your motto be?Better the devil you know.


June 2, 2017

Article Written By Mike Abel For Business Report (The Star)

Ask me whether the economic value of creativity has been historically undervalued in South Africa, and I’ll say: Yes. Enormously so. A recent Business Times article published on 12 March 2017 even highlighted the extent to which South Africa’s creative agencies and creative professionals are overlooked with regard to their economic value.

Look at the fact that the “total contribution of entities and organisations within the creative industries sector is between R90 billion and R107 billion in direct output (turnover) per annum”, and you’ll begin to see that creativity unlocks business performance.

But how?aRTICLE wTI How can creativity change the world via economic – or social – value?

Back to basics                       

Good creative agencies understand how to get a customer to buy their client’s product rather than someone else’s. If this isn’t a CEO’s greatest concern, I don’t know what is. But the problem is, so many companies look to advertising agencies only to ‘make ads’, which is like using a Swiss Army Knife only for the corkscrew.

Companies should remember that advertising agencies, at their core, are problem-solvers. Commercial psychologists, if you will. Our job is to shift perception and to create demand for a product, service and brand. The first law of economics talks to supply and demand, and we can create that demand by leveraging product innovation and then building relevance, consideration, re-appraisal and ‘loyalty’.

Spurring growth

Way back when, Volkswagen briefed its agency, Rightford, Searle-Tripp & Makin, to develop a brand called the Econo Golf. The agency, where I later worked for many years, didn’t come up with just an advertising solution, but an entirely new idea.

We re-branded the old shape as the ‘Citi Golf’ in three bright primary colours and launched it as the antidote to humdrum, promising drivers that they’d “Get the freedom of the Citi”. This paint job, together with minor trim adjustments, allowed the Citi Golf to dominate its category for 24 years, selling over R13 billion in cars. Think of the jobs created by R13 billion in sales, just based on this one idea.

Building networks

Years later, when we were launching at M&C Saatchi Abel, we realised that the brand needed a powerful distribution solution, so we introduced takealot to Mr Delivery. The drivers were busy over meal times, but had huge capacity outside of those hours to deliver takkies, TVs, books and other items. It didn’t take long for takealot to acquire Mr Delivery and the rest, as they say, is history. That’s the value of a creative idea.

Doing good

When I sat on the Ogilvy Global brains trust, we were asked to define a new central organising thought for the Group. This was our belief that brands don’t only need to grow off a Big Idea, but also off a Big Ideal: something that can change the world.

The work we had done on Dove, out of Canada, inspired us. Dove as a brand came to stand not just for the extra-moisturising properties that could be found in soap, but also for the celebration of natural, uncontrived beauty. This brand ideal had a profound psychological effect on how women across the world felt about themselves.

Locally, the M&C Saatchi Abel concept of the Street Store shows how it’s possible to tackle society’s more urgent challenges. We created the world’s first rent-free, premises-free, free pop-up clothing ‘store’ for the homeless – using four posters and an open-source website:

This emerged from the simple idea of providing the homeless with a genuine (free) shopping experience, to bring dignity to receivers and fufilment to givers. Today, almost every day, a Street Store happens somewhere in the world, clothing many hundreds of thousands of homeless individuals.

Provoking ‘crazy’

I believe that the ad industry has done itself a disservice by focusing on ‘award-winning opportunities’ rather than on solving hard problems in brilliantly creative ways. (In fairness, though, many clients are fearful of truly imaginative solutions.)

Look at the Dumb-Ways-To-Die campaign, which did far more for raising awareness of railway safety than any serious message could have. Locally, look at the Hollard DareDevil Run, where men run a race in tiny purple Speedos, to show their support of testicular cancer. The secret is in entertainment and in being brave.

Is there a country we could emulate with regard to harnessing creativity for economic/social good? Absolutely. I’m sure there are many. But South Africa doesn’t have to look further than South Africa. We have world-class talent here.

Source: Business Report (The Star)