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Umdloti’s iconic Johnny Walker gets Mad Hatter makeover by local artists

The Sandbar Restaurant's statue has undergone a head-turning makeover.

A dash of creative brilliance saw Umdloti’s iconic Johnny Walker statue at Sandbar Restaurant emerge as a striking version of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter.

Restaurant owners Leonard and Davina Staples recruited acclaimed Umdloti-based artists Mandy Brockbank and Audrey Rudnick to give Johnny his second makeover two weekends ago.

Johnny Walker before make over.

Originally “strutting his stuff” in plain gold, the statue became an instant tourist attraction when he received his first new outfit just over two years ago.

With patrons and passersby instantly compelled to take selfies with suave Johnny, he had become somewhat of a social media panjandrum.

But, as Davina puts it, two years of standing in the coastal sun and weather had left the man looking a bit “hung over”.

It was time for an upgrade.

“Mad Hatter” Johnny Walker with Sandbar Restaurant co-owner Leonard Staples and artists Mandy Brockbank and Audrey Rudnick.

“People love taking pictures with him, especially children, and I decided to really go for it. Johnny sneaks off to parties at night and then has to come to a complete standstill all day in the sun, so we had to do a bit of rehab on him and clean up his act.”

“I asked Mandy if she would paint it like the Mad Hatter. Audrey was an unexpected bonus coming in to work with her. It was so wonderful to see these two talented ladies work together in the wind for hours,” said Davina.

With a diploma in fine art from the erstwhile Technikon Witwatersrand (now merged into the University of Johannesburg), Brockbank is known for her colourful, vibey murals. Rudnick is a surrealist fine artist and sculptor renowned for her pod pieces.

She had her first solo exhibition at the age of 19 in Zurich, Switzerland and has ever since been exhibiting abroad and at home.

The artists said it was a fun project to work on. While the Mad Hatter was still taking shape, people were placing bets over what the theme was.

The artists also accepted input from the public regarding what colour the statue’s pants should be, eventually settling on black.

The attention to detail is amazing. From the lifelike bright green eyes exuding a kind expression, to the shading on the clothing, a rhinestone button on the shirt and the astonishingly realistic “leather” shoes, this masterpiece has to be seen in person to be truly appreciated.

The debonair Johnny is more than just a handsome addition to Umdloti’s tourist offering. He also adds to road safety, said Davina, as people slowed down at the zebra crossing outside the restaurant to admire the eye-catching statue.

To keep track of Johnny’s social media ventures, Leonard and Davina have now assigned him his own hashtag (#Johnnysandbar) and are encouraging the public to use it.

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