By Marianne Betts
Rising Victoria Falls artist Tich Ncube has come full circle – through his art he is giving back to the wildlife which he has drawn on for inspiration as far back as he can remember.
While Tich has already donated to wildlife and conservation internationally through UK-based organisations the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and Explorers Against Extinction, he has now been able to make a difference locally for the first time.
He held a solo exhibition called “Resurgence” at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge in July, donating 10 percent of the proceeds of his sales, or US$260, to the Victoria Falls Anti-Poaching Unit (VFAPU), a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of local wildlife and natural resources.
Self-taught artist Tich Ncube at his Resurgence exhibition at Victoria Falls Safari Lodge
“It was an honour to be able to assist a local organisation such as VFAPU, and I look forward to donating to wildlife conservation through my artwork more in the future,” he says.
The 35-year-old’s exhibition was named “Resurgence”, after both a hope of fresh new beginnings for wildlife, and for himself, after two difficult years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It all began in the 1990s when Tich was a herd boy in rural Tsholotsho, west of Zimbabwe’s second largest city of Bulawayo.
“I started drawing as a boy … I’d draw cattle and wildlife, like kudu, zebra, giraffe and elephants which I would encounter while herding cattle in the bush close to the Hwange National Park boundary,” he recalls.
He believes he has always been an artist, but he only started appreciating his talent in grade 7, when he created artworks as presents for his classmates.
“I didn’t go to a special art school because my family was poor, and I grew up in an African village where art was not promoted, so I stayed in this little corner for a long time.”
He moved to Victoria Falls in 1999 to complete his secondary education at Mosi-oa-Tunya High School where he studied art during his final year in ‘O’ Level, and began pursuing art as a career in 2002.
He was introduced to the industry by artists Sanele Dhlomo and the late Jimmy James Nkomo who had been drawing and painting in Victoria Falls, and later became a protégé of leading Zimbabwean artist Larry Norton.
Victoria Falls artist Tich Ncube at the Jacaranda Art Fair in Harare in October 2022
From this his distinctive “splash technique” was born, which depicts endangered animals trying to find their way back to life from behind the shadows of extinction.
“It tells a story of animals struggling to crack through barriers to enjoy their freedom again,” he says. “The splashes look like cracks, but they are an imitation of blood splatters. A poacher’s bullet pushes through the animal flesh and there are splatters of blood.”
His works often focus on the eyes of a wild animal, as the Victoria Falls artist believes they are the window to its soul and reveal exactly what it is going through.
LIMA, this lion oil on canvas portrait demonstrates Tich Ncube’s splash technique
Tich’s work is characterised by incredibly striking wild animals, and a brilliant, very individual style, and he now sells it both locally and internationally to tourists and art collectors.
This year, for the second time, he was named a finalist in the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation Wildlife Artist of the Year, an internationally renowned wildlife art competition and
exhibition in London.
If the exhibited artwork sells, half of the proceeds go to the artist and half go to the David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation and are donated to wildlife conservation projects around the
world. Last year one of his two pieces selected for the exhibition sold.
In 2017 Tich started participating in the UK-based Explorers Against Extinction’s Sketch for Survival competition, where an artist donates an artwork each year, and 100 per cent of
proceeds from its sale go to conservation.
“So, art is a platform where I’ve been able to participate in and sponsor selected conservation
projects,” he says.
His biggest challenge as an up-and-coming artist has been marketing his work.
“You’re alone with no galleries representing you, no sponsors and no patrons. I’ve had to push myself very hard to make it to this level. I still have much work and praying to do to be
recognised out there.”
When Tich is not painting or sketching he can be found singing in the shower – he prides himself in being “a shower musician”. He loves music, carpentry, DIY projects, as well as playing soccer, volleyball and tennis.
The Victoria Falls artist is also a happy family man – married to Sakhile, a talented hairdresser, and father to two sons and a daughter – Siyamthanda, 9, Siyabonga, 6, and Siza, 4, and he loves getting back to nature at any chance he gets.
“I love camping, being out in nature and visiting the rural areas – I guess I love country living,” he says.