Michael Armitage: Inside the White Cube
This spring, the North Galleries of the White Cube are filled with a collection of fascinating paintings by Michael Armitage. Revealing his first solo exhibition, Inside the White Cube, Armitage introduces a distinctive technique that draws upon his heritage and traditions. Born in Kenya and raised in the UK, the artist amalgamates his own memories and experiences with East African legends to create abstract narratives that emerge without structure.
These freely streaming narratives are mirrored by the fluidity of the brush strokes used to form both the background environment and the characters portrayed. Armitage has a unique canvas, painting with oils on Lubugo, a traditional bark cloth from Uganda. This enables him to create an expressive texture to the compositions. The artist makes thorough use of the colour palette but does not blend the solid hues together, instead letting them stand on their own. The result is free, creative and unrestricted, and it gives the viewer a vast painterly world to observe and absorb.
Though seemingly carefree, Armitage’s various figurative narratives created within his paintings clearly address political and social issues in Kenya. Mpeketoni in particular paints a serious scene, the composition of which is noticeably reminiscent of Feminine Folly, an etching by Francisco Goya. From a distance, the composition is quite intriguing and eye-catching, with group of women stood in a circle holding a cloth, with curvaceous paint strokes around the piece. One might not think that there was anything particularly poignant about it. However, as we look in closer, we learn more about the event represented in the image: it depicts the aftermath of the Somali militant terrorist attack on the North Coast of Kenya during the 2014 World Cup, where 48 people were killed. Through this knowledge, it is realised then that the women are actually holding one of the people that was wounded in this terrible event.
Several other paintings in the collection, including #mydressmychoice, also look at events and situations of great consequence. There is a lot to be learnt from these thought-provoking paintings, not just visually, but also through the cultural and historical influences.
Photos: Erol Birsen
Michael Armitage: Inside the White Cube is at the White Cube from 29th April until 5th July 2015, for further information visit here.