17/08/2017 12:59 SAST | Updated 17/08/2017 12:59 SAST

This Mind-Blowing South African Mural Is Making Waves In Europe

It’s taken weeks to paint, and Ukrainians were first angry but now in love.

This intricate painting of the sea by SA artist Jake Aikman is delighting passers-by in Kiev.
Iryna Kanishcheva
This intricate painting of the sea by SA artist Jake Aikman is delighting passers-by in Kiev.

Ukraine's historic capital city of Kiev has just become the proud owner of an extraordinary South African mural, painstakingly painted by a solo artist to realistically depict the ocean.

The three-storey, nine-metres high, 13-metres wide mural was created by Cape-Town based painter Jake Aikman, whose recent show at SMAC Gallery in Johannesburg was a highlight of the year's art calendar.

The mural is the first time Aikman's work has found itself outside of a gallery and into a public space.

"It was very strange working outside. I work very privately, I don't share my stuidio with anyone, so no one gets to see my developmental stages. Being watched was very peculiar, but I really just put my head down because I had a lot to do," Aikman told Huffpost SA.

Normally Aikman's paintings, most of which depict the ocean in intricate detail, and at their widest are two metres on canvas, can take months to complete. "At that scale you can get away with a lot of things that you wouldn't get away with on the scale of a painting on a canvas. But I think this will reach more people, and having that interaction was quite special for me."

At first, Aikman says, Ukrainians weren't all that excited about the enormous new painting in their city. "People initially started shouting at me when they saw the first high-contrast sketch I did on the wall. Someone translated for me and I found out that they were saying it was too dark, one woman even brought me a rose because she wanted something more pretty," Aikman explains, laughing.

Aikman was invited to the Ukraine by international public art organization Art United Us , which plans to make 200 walls in the city of Kiev. At the same time as Aikman, Spanish artists taking part in the project were working on a 20-storey mural.

Local media have interpreted the work in their own way, Aikman says. "I had three impromptu TV meetings when I arrived, and the reporters latched onto the painting being of the Black Sea, and for me it is more of a universal ocean. But with Crimea being anexed by the Russians, the ocean is highly contested, and so people can make it mean what they would like it to."

"Bringing the sea to the city is the most important part of the project for me. The human vulnerability in the enormity of the ocean is important for our understanding of our own humanity."

In the coming months Aikman will be showing at the JHB Art Fair, and then at 154 Art Fair in London. No plans have been made for any walls yet in South Africa, but the artist is "open to invitations", he says.