Embracing the Darkness: Seth Pimentel’s Journey to Artistic Freedom
For South African illustrator Seth Pimentel, known as African Ginger, art served as an early form of therapy. By drawing, he found he could unpack trauma and feelings he was not yet ready to speak aloud.
That audience didn’t show up right away, however. When Pimentel first began posting his work on Instagram, his creations reflected the inner workings of a troubled but deeply sensitive mind. “People were like, ‘Wow this is cool, but it’s dark. It’s scary.’ That stopped me from creating what I wanted to create. I started creating more aesthetic stuff with bright colors and animated work.”
At the time, Pimentel was studying at South Africa’s National School of the Arts. His early work was line-based and colorful, drawing on the organic lines and textural applications he’d been taught and respected. But he wanted to create something different.
“I tried to figure out how I could convey emotion through brushstrokes,” he says. He began creating his own custom brushes in Adobe Photoshop, as well as sharing and downloading brushes from friends. He incorporated people in his work, using texture brushes to layer tones instead of traditional line sketching. “My style went from this happy-go-lucky approach to more of a weird, hyper-real illustrative style,” he explains.
As his style developed, so did the number of Instagram followers who appreciated his dark and edgy vision. The growing positive response finally encouraged him to throw caution to the wind and fully explore the darkest recesses of his mind, turning those feelings into art. “My Instagram is just passion projects. There is no client work. It’s all me,” he says.
His work is filled with pop culture influences such as the music of Odd Future and Tyler, the Creator. Describing himself as a person who lives wearing headphones, Pimentel often finds inspiration in a piano chord, lyric, or scene.
Pimentel’s recent series of mythological creatures was initially inspired by an episode of Love, Death & Robots that featured a huli jing, a mythological fox-like creature that takes on a human form.
In the series, Pimentel layers illustrations of the mysterious and unsettling creatures over human figures, suggesting a more sinister, primal nature under the calm exterior. In one, a gangster wears a mask of Xolotl, a dog-headed god from Aztec lore who guides the dead to the underworld. The effect is a juxtaposition of lore, tradition, and modern fear.
“No matter how grotesque the illustration of a cat or a dog is, it will still be perceived as non-threatening,” explains Pimentel. “But as soon as it’s human, it kind of moves into this realm of actualized fear. It’s so real because we’ve all been hurt by another human.”
“I started using that as a tool to speak to people about it. I’m not saying you’ll be fine or anything, but it’s like ‘I’m with you,’” he says. “There is a sense of hope from it. But also, don’t let it consume you.”