Lorenzo Nassimbeni's drawings capture the essence of cities

Two new series by South African architect-turned-artist Lorenzo Nassimbeni express the characters of the city where he was born and the city where he lives.

In his recent work, architect-turned-artist Lorenzo Nassimbeni looks at essence of the South African cities he resides in: first at the ocean of Cape Town, and then at the built environment of Johannesburg and its pervasive inner-city boundary walls.

Lorenzo Nassimbeni’s work translates the urban landscape into hand-drawn images, murals and wallpapers. He has recently been playing with translating his drawings into the third dimension, working in the medium of sculpture – or as he calls it “built drawings”.

In two series of drawings – Home and Falling In... – Nassimbeni explores Cape Town, the city where he was born, and Johannesburg, the city where he lives. These two projects, and a sculpture that is being displayed as part of Art Week Joburg, represent a subtle shift in the development of his style and an exploration into new conceptual and material territory.


In the series of drawings entitles Home Nassimbeni considers Cape Town, the city of his birth, by focusing on its defining feature: the sea. Born and raised in Cape Town, the coast and the oceanic element of the city are close to his heart. For Nassimbeni, the exhibition of these drawings in the city they depict represents a sort of homecoming.

In this body of work, Nassimbeni seeks to uncover an understanding of the ocean as an architectural element and as part of our emotional configuration. The exhibition is divided into three parts: surface – the pure essence of water as a substance; submerged – the land beneath the waves; interface – the built environment along the coast.

This exhibition, which will be for one night only on 1 October, is an uncovering of spirit, place and person, and is an intensely personal and emotive homage to the artist’s home.

Falling in…

Just as in Home, the series Falling in… is also focused on the idea of origin, but where Home drew inspiration from the ocean, Falling in… is an investigation of Hillbrow, an area in the heart of the Johannesburg CBD. The series of drawings represent an attempt by the artist to build an intimacy between himself and the city he now lives in.

Hillbrow was built on a section of uitvalgrond – which translates into English as the “left-over” land in between farms. Hillbrow exists in a triangular space between the three major farmlands that now form Johannesburg’s centre, and is where the city’s built-up form began.

The series explores the contrast between the original geometric composition of Hillbrow and its current state of disrepair.

Lorenzo Nassimbeni's series "Falling In..." look at the Johannesburg inner city area of Hillbrow

The drawings were created from photographs, first as drafted pencil lines that extracted the geometric essence of the streets, and then in a second layer Nassimbeni drew a freehand ink line that represent the wear and tear of Hillbrow. This layering represents the space between the foundations of the place and the current status quo.

Lorenzo Nassimbeni's series "Falling In..." look at the Johannesburg inner city area of Hillbrow


The Josie sculpture is a diagrammatic expression of the urban essence of Johannesburg. It is currently on display at the Parts and Labour Sculpture Park at Arts on Main in Maboneng as part of Art Week Joburg. Nassimbeni refers to the piece as a “built drawing”.

The piece is inspired by the typography of Johannesburg, and shows the streets running east to west in the CBD. The diagonal line is another reference to the uitvalgrond – the leftover space between the original farms of the city and turns the piece into a sort of suburban gate. It is also an allusion to the city’s transition from a farming town to a mining town, and to the ever-present boundary wall, that so strongly characterises the experience of living in Johannesburg.

Lorenzo Nassimbeni sculpture "Josie"

Lorenzo Nassimbeni will be giving a talk on his work in Maboneng on 13 September as part of Art Week Joburg. He is represented by the David Kruts Projects.