Michael Armitage debuts an ambitious group of new paintings at Kunsthalle Basel

The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Sunday, May 26, 2024

Michael Armitage debuts an ambitious group of new paintings at Kunsthalle Basel
Installation view, Michael Armitage, You, Who Are Still Alive, Kunsthalle Basel, 2022, view on, You, Who Are Still Alive, 2022. Photo: Philipp Hänger / Kunsthalle Basel.

BASEL.- Note the velvet lushness, the peculiar atmospheres, and the multiple, sometimes contradictory, perspectives. Note the highly textured surfaces from which emanates an unearthly glow, wrought from the layering of sumptuous but hard-to-name hues (salmon pink beneath a powdery purple-green, for example, might be one possible approximation). Note how viridian forest landscapes meet East African urban life; how recent events tangle with myth; how a 1970s Senegalese film, just like a street conversation, or a news story, or a music video, can inspire a depiction. Note the way the transparency of a face rendered in outline can call into question everything it is surrounded by. Note, as well, the sort of space and time travel that these images consistently perform. Note, perhaps most significantly, the singular aliveness that issues from this Kenyan-British artist’s paintbrush, turning fantastical juxtapositions into hauntingly incandescent paintings.

These qualities are evident in the surreality of a face that doubles and floats above itself, posing the irresolvable question of whether it pictures death, a dream, a traumatic memory, or some liminal space in between (You, Who Are Still Alive, 2022). They are present in the portrayal of Warigia, the legendary tenth daughter of the East African Gĩkũyũ people’s founding father; she is crawling across a grassy knoll, thongs on her hands as if they were feet, with a giant lizard nipping at her heels (Warigia, 2022). They show themselves in the depiction of young boys, high as kites on sniffed glue, their meticulously contoured faces giving way to ethereal mists, each of which then—gorgeously, inexplicably—forms into a flamingo (Three Boys at Dawn, 2022). They emanate from representations of animals, slaughtered and sacrificed, their shapes turning into pure color (Amongst the Living, 2022). And they are palpable in the image of a head that lies, ever so still, on a patch of grass, cleanly severed from its body (Head of Koitalel, 2021). The latter motif is based on the 1905 decapitation of the East African Nandi people’s supreme political and spiritual leader, Koitalel Arap Samoei, who had, while alive, successfully thwarted the British colonialist railway expansion across Nandi territory. But the Brits tricked and brutally killed him, and then took off with his head, claiming ever since at every request for its return that it had been lost. How does one lose such a macabre trophy? The rendition is one of the smallest paintings in the exhibition, a bit larger than head-sized, and eerily serene; one spies a man in the background (the guard meant to watch the head or perhaps the perpetrator himself?) washing up in a nearby river: colonial beheading, it seems, is a dirty business.

Through his compositions, Michael Armitage addresses wildly diverse themes—from tribal founding myths to everyday heroisms and from abuses of power to celebratory rituals—each circulating between past and present, historical fact and conjured fiction. Born in Nairobi, in 1984, Armitage received his artistic training in London. He now lives and works between the two cities, acknowledging each as formative to his creative practice. The artist often researches and records life across Kenya— making sketches, taking informal photographs or videos—in order to carry back these impressions and work them into his paintings in London. Except, that is, where nature is involved: starting with this body of work, he employed the technique of plein air painting when turning his attention to the landscapes of Kenya—in a manner similar to how Impressionists once captured the particular way in which afternoon sunlight may have hit a haystack or a group of bathers resting near a pond. Armitage’s painterly style draws from a variety of art histories and eras (from Francisco Goya, Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, and Sigmar Polke as much as Iba N’Diaye, Jak Katarikawe, Peter Mulindwa, Chelenge Van Rampelberg, and Meek Gichugu). The substrate on which he chooses to paint, however, is an explicit nod to his African heritage. This ground doggedly subverts Western artistic traditions of which he has such ready command. Nearly from the start of his practice, the artist has consistently substituted canvas with Lubugo, a cloth he first encountered in a Nairobi tourist market. Sourced from a fig tree, the material undergoes a labor-intensive process: below the rough outer skin of the tree, an inner layer of bark is peeled off, singed with banana leaves, soaked, softened by the blows of mallets, dried, and stitched together, its irregular pieces revealing visible tears and pits in their uneven surfaces. The artist’s choice of material is, literally, foundational: traditionally used in Ugandan ritual contexts, Lubugo, which translates as “funeral cloth,” ensures an evocation of death, and along with it of love and loss, that buckles beneath each otherwise vibrantly painted surface.

Notwithstanding all of the works’ stunning representational power, it is the holes that prevail in Armitage’s paintings. They ensnare you. Each such hole is somehow a wound, but also an aperture, an orifice, a portal. There is a galaxy of them, surrounded by patently stitched joints and thick sutures, raised like keloid scars across a body. This, along with the paintings’ puckering, all the more evocative of damaged and hastily repaired skin, prevents any sense of serenity or ease on the part of a viewer. The holes and tears complicate the image, at times interrupting it; at others, they are its determining aspect. These gaps are as much visual as visceral, throbbing through and against the painted image. In the quivering surfaces, the artist doubles down on the anxiety inherent in his narratives.

One senses it, spectacularly, in this exhibition. You, Who Are Still Alive features an impressive new body of works, painted over the past three years for this Kunsthalle Basel show, the artist’s most comprehensive presentation of recent work to date. It includes numerous large-scale paintings, among them the largest Armitage has ever made, and a selection of delicate ink drawings that reveal his exquisite draftsmanship. Time is a mash-up in his hands; one finds exposed flesh, fetid jungles, piglets that suckle from dangling human breasts, burning cauldrons, and beasts of burden roaming the land, but also nylon tracksuits, the swish of a Coca-Cola logo, and a PA system. These remind you that Armitage may be a magic realist, but he paints in order to speak to and of the present. And although in his paintings one might sense a latent threat of violence or evocations of human weakness, the gentleness with which a closedeyed figure is rendered as if caressed or the way in which a beast’s laughably distended pink anus is made to correspond with an actual hole in the painting’s surface testify to the painter’s generosity, humor, and levity. His is an art of celebration and irrefutable compassion as much as it is one of dire warnings. To fail to notice this would be to miss one of the central stakes of Armitage’s project. Because you—dear viewer, steward of the planet’s future—are still alive, and this work incites you to live radiantly, to love indiscriminately, to remember your forebearers, and maybe to even right a few past wrongs.

Michael Armitage was born in 1984 in Nairobi; he lives and works in London and Nairobi.

Today's News

May 22, 2022

Italy says ancient statue in U.S. museum was stolen, not lost at sea

Spectacular View of Verona worth £11 million at risk of leaving UK

RM Sotheby's sells the most valuable car in the eorld for €135 million

Astrup Fearnley Museet opens an exhibition dedicated to the work of Synnøve Anker Aurdal

Exhibition features four painters who were active in Los Angeles or the Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s

Rediscovered Imperial Chinese seal emerges at auction after 3 decades on family bookshelf in France

Vangelis, composer best known for 'Chariots of Fire,' dies at 79

Vitra Design Museum hosts The Luis Barragán Archive

Regen Projects opens its first exhibition with Kevin Beasley

Pair of silver thrones from India go on view at the Nelson-Atkins

Marshall Arisman, illustrator who found beauty in violence, dies at 83

Largest exhibition to date dedicated to the artist, activist, educator, and founder of El Museo del Barrio opens in N.Y.

Exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York transports visitors to pre-digital New York

Museum of London opens new display celebrating city's sporting hero Harry Kane

Templon opens an exhibition of works by Valerio Adami

Maureen Paley opens 'An Apparent Brightness' by Esther Pearl Watson at Morena di Luna

Huis Marseille opens an exhibition of polaroids by Dana Lixenberg

Heritage, diversification and breakthrough: Poly Auction Hong Kong celebrates its 10th auctions anniversary

Kenneth Welsh, memorable as a villain on 'Twin Peaks,' dies at 80

In Milan, an iconic stadium isn't going down without a fight

Scientists uncover a shady web of online spider sales

Maison Caillebotte opens the door to a little known, even secret, history of modernism in Portugal

New monograph by Finbarr O'Reilly, Carmignac Photojournalism Award laureate: 'Congo, A Sublime Struggle'

Michael Armitage debuts an ambitious group of new paintings at Kunsthalle Basel

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez

Royalville Communications, Inc

ignaciovillarreal.org juncodelavega.com facundocabral-elfinal.org
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful