Blessing Ngobeni’s mother left home when he was a small boy and he stayed with his uncle – who, in Ngobeni’s own words, treated him like a child slave and whipped him. This was the artist’s first experience of the chicotte. Eventually the small boy ran away from home and went to live in the bush. His mother eventually came to retrieve him and brought him to live with her and her new husband in Tzaneen, but in 1995, at the age of ten, Ngobeni ran away again – and for five years he would live in the streets of Alex township.
At the age of fifteen, Ngobeni was arrested for his part in an armed robbery. The trial took two years to reach sentencing and he received a sentence of nine years. He was released in 2006 having served six years and completed his Matric. It was also in prison the Ngobeni turned to art and taught himself to paint. By the time he left, he knew he wanted to be a painter. At this point he was making naturalistic images, inspired by the style of Michelangelo.
For two years he lived in Ponte in Hillbrow and Miles Bhudu gave him a space in his offices to enable Ngobeni to work. Ngobeni participated in an SABC 2 show about life in prison before starting work at David Krut Publishing at the Johannesburg Art Gallery and Red Paper Production as a puppeteer. In the following year, Ngobeni joined the Artist Proof Studio but he was expelled the following year for not attending all his classes – because he was still having to work to support himself.
His work at this time was being sold by Tendai gallery and shortly before he was due to leave the gallery over 200 artworks were stolen. Ngubeni continued to work at Red Paper but he was deeply disheartened from having his work stolen. It took him a year to start making art again – and when he did what emerged was the birth of a new style, much darker, using weeping dripping paint. Ngubeni had tapped into the source of his pain and was making art to heal himself.
Ngubeni rapidly developed a style of his own, using montage, paint, and distorted, contorted figures.
Later his work would be compared with Picasso, Basquiat, Miro and Norman Catherine, but at the time Ngobeni had encountered none of these artists. His nightmare imagery and sense of the absurd would also lead him to be compared with the Surrealists – a movement he was yet to hear of.