KZNSA -Artists in Focus: Dane Stops

A young woman gazes up toward a pastel blue Durban sky. She has a sweet and gentle face. Below her, dinosaurs and figures of people pop in red and purple tones. This is the latest portrait painted on the side of the KZNSA Gallery wall. Digging a little deeper into the mind and hands that made the wondrous image, Niamh Walsh-Vorster gets to know Dane Stops for this month’s KZNSA Artist in Focus.



With a little bit of cynism and a whole lot of introspection and insight, Dane talks portraiture, Durban’s potential and graffiti as a form of fine art.


Who is Dane Stops? Where does the name originate from?

Dane Stops: Dane Stops is the name I’ve adopted as a multidisciplinary artist. The name is a combination of my actual name, Dane, and the alias I used as a graffiti artist, Stops. It originated out of a need to have one name that could easily cover the work I produce both indoors (as a fine artist in a gallery) and outdoors (as a contemporary muralist/graffiti artist).


You’ve recently painted a new mural on the KZNSA side wall. Can you go a bit in depth about the story behind it?

DS: Recently I’ve been tossing a bunch of ideas around in an attempt to figure out a conceptual direction. This process began with combining the various elements that I use in my drawing and painting. As much as I would like to be able to just say that “I painted these things because I like them”, it would be false to ignore the thinking that goes on behind the scenes. So, even though I am playing around with the formal elements of the work I am selecting the imagery and subjects with some intent; there is definitely a sense of wonder, childhood fantasy and play by way of incorporating toys such as dinosaurs, in the case of the KZNSA wall, lego and various animals. The aesthetic decision to leave parts of the painting as ‘unfinished’ sketches is meant to reinforce the idea of play; it’s meant to have a similar feel to a sketchbook, which is where artists play around and learn, and the frivolity of childhood drawings and stories. These ideas are contrasted, and become a little nostalgic, by pairing the imagery with a portrait of a young adult.

Working on the mural over a fair amount of time allowed me to think about the various pieces, what I wanted to change or add, and work at getting it to a place that I’m happy with at a slow pace. This also allowed me to adjust my approach to painting with spray-paint quite freely to create texture and variation within the technicality of it.



This was Kim’s question: How do you reconcile your style with your street art and fine art?

DS: In a way, it wasn’t a difficult thing to do because graffiti is ultimately a form of fine art. The subject matter just happens to be letters and the artists signature becomes the focus of the image. But, just because it is a form of fine art doesn’t automatically mean that it will be read and understood as fine art; It’s up to the individual artist whether they choose to position the work they make as fine art.

From a technical standpoint I began by making an effort to maintain the qualities that I saw in my drawing within my use of spray-paint; keeping an emphasis on line and mark making while also having softer areas of layering and blending (making use of all the qualities of the medium). So much of what becomes popular in graffiti is cleanliness and smooth colour gradations (there are other things as well), and this took away from what I found alluring in the process of drawing and painting. I think an important thing for my process has been taking what I learn in one medium and trying to apply it to another medium. Basically, I began to treat spray-paint in the same way that many traditional fine art tools are used. So, I’m a painter who works with spray paint.


How do you choose your subjects for your portraits?

DS: I think that this depends on what I want the work to achieve. But below are some other thoughts:

Even though I aim to capture a likeness and represent my subject matter in somewhat of a realistic manner, the portrait is ultimately anonymous. Yes, it looks like an individual, but it doesn’t matter who that person is. I do try to avoid making a finished work using an image of someone who is famous or meant to be known (which most people seem to expect when you’re painting a portrait in public).

So, when I’m going through photos I’m looking at facial expression, posture, general attitude, lighting, colour; these help set the direction for composition and communicative value (even if there’s no obvious concept). The subjects usually end up being people I have some association with just because I’m working from my own photos.

In some cases, I have just used images from a google search because it suited what needed to be achieved. This is usually the case when I need to refer to someone who is a public figure and it’s just not possible to take my own photos.




Is the personal political, for you and/or work?

DS: I don’t consider my work in any political light and this is mainly because I am not thinking about it in this way when it is conceptualised. But, I’m also sure that if discussed with the right context it can be, because most things can be. Personal issues often reflect or stem from social issues and in this way personal action is political action in spite of one’s intentions. Although, I’m not sure how one could frame dinosaur toys as political.

I have made some smaller drawings that touched on socio-political topics, which I really enjoyed. These will probably creep into paintings down the line.


What are your thoughts on the Durban art scene? 

DS: My initial, cynical, reaction is “what art scene?”. But, I know that isn’t a fair response because there is an art scene. Or at least there are lots of artists. I think Durban has plenty of amazing artists, but, unfortunately, we lack a strong support structure in the number of galleries and buyers we have, which effects the way art can be seen, and therefore the art scene.

Lots of the artists and creatives in Durban know each other and are probably already friends, which sort of allows for constant development. But, also highlights the lower number of artists we have (in comparison to other major cities). From a quantitative view the number of artists and artworks we get to see impacts the kind of art we produce and the standards we hold. Yes, we have the internet and are able to instantly access images artists are producing globally, but, it’s not quite the same; it’s still too distant. There is nothing like walking into a gallery or museum and seeing the work you with you were able to make or had thought of making. In this way it sometimes feels like the Durban art scene is still in its infancy, which isn’t a bad thing because we get to work out what it’s going to grow up to be.

The issues of galleries is a far more complex one, because they are expensive to run and take loads more experience than most people have (I’m referring to galleries in a fine art context and not including venues that have walls for some art/illustrations to hang). For someone that is not involved in the arts, their experience of what is art is formed by what is shown in a gallery space. In this way, the gallery becomes the educator of the public. And because Durban has so few gallery spaces the amount of work, and diversity of work, that can be shown is limited, which limits the art education public receive. The rise of First Thursdays has helped with some aspects of this, but not in all areas of artistic practice. Developing smaller art collectives, such as Amasosha, can also provide a bit of remedy to this as they provide a context for growth amongst artists and can hopefully build into art houses and galleries.

Durban often feels like a small town. Everyone seems to know everyone else in some way. But, at the same time, Durban feels expansive with lots of different circles and activities happening in isolation and under the radar. Hence my first reaction.



What has been your experience with the art scene outside of Durban versus Durban?

DS: Other than the sheer number of galleries, I once went to 16 galleries over a weekend in Joburg, and artists I don’t see much of a difference. I think that I have come back from places like Joburg feeling more excited about working and less excited about the way Durban works because it’s easy to interpret the numerical difference as a negative. But, ultimately the art scenes are similar; it’s just more visible on the other side.

Durban also seems to have less professional artists. By ‘professional’ I mean people who get up and paint as either their sole form, or large part, of income. I’m also guilty of this. And this relates back to the demand there is for art.

We also seem to have more ‘Commercial’ artists and Sunday painters as opposed to Contemporary Artists. This could relate to people (whether they are collectors or interested in a commissioned piece) only seeing value in art when the work relates to whatever their business might be, or adds an element of beauty, as in decoration rather than contemplation (again, this is in the context of fine art, not all types of art). This lack of knowledge from the ‘collectors’ directly affects the kind of work artists produce because at the end of the day every artist wants to sell something (this also links back to the part about the number of galleries we have).


Do you have any crazy graffiti adventures you could share? 

DS: I’m afraid I don’t really. I was never really into the bombing side of graffiti so never really ended up in any crazy situations. The worst that happened was in the early 2000s: a bunch of friends and myself were placed in a holding cell at Umbilo Police Station after being caught with spray-paint in our bags (we dropped the cans we were carrying through the gaps in the wall we were asked to get up against). They let one of us go, the one who wasn’t carrying his paint. They took the rest of our paint, gave the rest of us a lift in the back of a cop van and slammed the gate to the holding cell as hard as possible. After what they felt must have been long enough to have taught us a lesson they let us go. The walk from the station to Rossburgh felt extremely long. There was no exciting chase and it was an overall entertaining experience because we were in a group. We also managed to retrieve the cans we had dropped through the wall and eventually found our friend who, while we were carpooling to Umbilo Station, managed to phone a friend and notify all of our parents.


Who are the local (KZN or SA) artists you follow that we should all be keeping an eye on and why?

DS: None of these artists fall into an up and coming grouping. I’m listing them because they inspire me to work. Karla Nixon (@karla_nixon), works mainly with paper and makes intricate cuts and sculptures. Grace Kotze (@grace_kotze), paintings that are so good. Asha Zero (, uses collage techniques to generate reference and the resulting paintings are amazing. Khaya Witbooi, amazing use of stencils. Always amazed when I see his work. Daniel Nel (@__dnel), paintings that are sparse in detail but capture an image so well. Nikhil Tricam (@n_tricam), mostly cityscapes and buildings captured with line work that is loaded with character.


Anything we can expect from you, art-wise, in the future that you can share?

DS: I have a few ideas; the rough beginnings of things I know I want to do. Both new concepts and continuations of old ones. But, it’s a slow-ish process and the ideas aren’t clear enough to share specifics. They will, however, continue the process of combining the visual elements that I’m interested in while refining the conceptual underpinning. As the ideas and concepts and visuals come together they will end up on my IG first, so, needless to say, follow me there @danestops.


Dane will be hosting a portrait drawing class on Saturday 18 August from 09h00 – 12h00 at The KZNSA Gallery. Call or email the gallery to book your place – 031 2771705 [email protected] R200 – materials and refreshments provided.



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