Orphaned at the age of seven and raised by his grandmother in Sasolburg in the Free State, Ennock Mlangeni had skills, but no money to make his art dreams come true.
That is until he posted a picture he had created of renowned DJ Black Coffee on his social media accounts, and it went viral.
He had decided to use Ricoffy granules to create the paint to make his portrait because it produced the right skin colour for the world-famous house producer.
Soon enough, the work was spotted by Nestlé, which manufactures Ricoffy, and everything changed for Mlangeni.
Since then, he has become affectionately known as Coffee-Bae and has won art competitions and been featured on TV as his portraits of famous South Africans have made him an online sensation – particularly his Winnie Madikizela-Mandela artwork.
But now, the self-taught artist’s biggest dream is coming true. He is getting a studio – and a gallery-cum-coffee shop – to set him up for life.
This week, Nestlé confirmed to City Press that it was busy finalising its contract with Mlangeni and that within a few months, building would begin on The Shack Art Studios that will house Coffee-Bae.
The studios are named in honour of the Sasolburg shack where Mlangeni creates his work.
“When I couldn’t afford to study art, I taught myself in my shack,” he told City Press this week.
The studio construction will be happening in Zamdela township, Sasolburg.
Nestlé SA’s Zweli Mnisi said: “We look forward to the official opening of the studio in the coming months ... To make a real, positive impact in South Africa, we need the best people we can find to partner with us, particularly in youth and entrepreneurial programmes. Or, to look at it another way, we need those great people to find their way to us. Ennock’s journey is therefore a good example of such a partnership.”
Coffee-Bae says he will be using his new studio to help train other young art enthusiasts from the township. And he is planning to expand his own repertoire by focusing on learning business skills and helping young artists become business-minded.
The Shack, he says, “will be divided into a gallery, my studio, other artists’ studios and a coffee shop” to create a viable business model.
“Its existence will create new opportunities for other artists and employment for community members,” Mlangeni said.
But his dreams do not end there. One day, Mlangeni plans on owning a national art academy to empower youngsters.
For now, though, anyone wanting to get in early and invest in a Coffee-Bae original can find his famous portraits at shop 37 of Northlands Deco Park on New Market Road in Northland, Johannesburg.
His subjects, he says, are chosen because they resonate with him. “Every piece of my work has a bit of my experience and is a reflection of who I am.”