The veteran street artist Falko One brings colorful murals to small towns.
In 2011, the South African street artist Falko One—who has been a key player in the country’s street-art scene since the late 1980s—was hosting a week of workshops in Delft, a small, run-down suburb on the outskirts of his home of Cape Town. Each day, on his way back into the city, he would pause and paint a mural on one of the homes he passed.
Falko’s work is vibrant; his larger-than-life creations are filled with bright colors that come alive against the landscape. He quickly started thinking bigger. He sought out sponsors, and with small grants from Sportscene and the South Africa British Council, Falko spent two weeks transforming houses in Darling, a small town on the Western Cape.
Falko painted elephants for a simple reason: they make him happy. (Now, the growing awareness of their possible extinction in Africa has added another layer to his project.) When he works for clients, he says, the work is often stressful, and determined by the parameters of the commission. But when he paints houses, his goal is to bring joy to communities struggling with poverty and neglect.
Often, the houses he paints are owned by people who earn very little or depend on government subsidies. “Maintaining a home is the last priority for them,” Falko says. With his work, he’s offering a free paint job, but he’s also transforming the small towns into living galleries. His work, Falko says, helps residents to see their homes and neighborhoods in a new light. The murals, he adds, change the local perception of value.
Last year, Falko secured a sponsorship from Red Bull, and spent six months—from May to October—traveling between nine towns and settlements in South Africa, painting murals for a series entitled “Once Upon a Town.” After just three days in a place, he says, the demands from locals for a painting on their wall would be through the roof. He did his best to accommodate all the requests, asking for input on colors and patterns. In exchange, residents brought him snacks and cool drinks to keep him going. In that year, he painted around 300 murals. The initial plan was to keep “Once Upon a Town” to 2015, but the response was so positive that Falko will visit another 10 towns this year.
His plan is to go international, to visit each continent and paint elephants. But for Falko, the focus will remain the same—on small towns and the people in them, and how his work can bring them together.