The British-Kenyan painter Michael Armitage (b. 1984 in Nairobi, Kenya) has swiftly become one of the most exciting young voices of contemporary art. In his large-format, colorful oil paintings, he compellingly combines traditions of European painting with specific East African cultural themes. He draws inspiration from daily political events, pop culture, folklore and personal memories, which he weaves into mythically charged and dreamlike images.
Like an experience of déjà-vu, his paintings possess an attractive and almost uncanny familiarity for eyes trained in European art history. In the paintings’ compositional elements, motifs and color combinations, viewers recognize the language of Titian, Francisco de Goya, Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Egon Schiele, whose works Michael Armitage picks up on and processes in his own. Trained at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the young painter skillfully addresses the European view and the associated exoticism in the consideration of the other.
Equally important, however, is the influence of East African artists such as Meek Gichugu, Sane Wadu, Edward Tingatinga and Jak Katarikawe, whose palette and symbolism characterize Michael Armitage’s own work. Animals, especially monkeys, play a special role in his paintings, becoming symbols of human qualities. In a complex work process that takes place in both Nairobi and London (drawings and preliminary studies are created in Nairobi, which are later developed into complex compositions in his London studio), Michael Armitage creates syncretic, powerful images that grant space to all aspects of the human condition: violence, sexuality, love, spirituality and dream states. They connect past and present, as well as different continents, and portray a complex picture of the visual imagination of present-day Kenya.
Curated by Anna Schneider