Drawing from East African and European folkloric and artistic traditions, as well as contemporary politics and pop culture, Kenyan-British artist Michael Armitage paints dreamlike and mythical scenes.Read More
Michael Armitage studied in London, earning a BA in Fine Art at The School of Fine Art in 2007 and a postgraduate diploma from the Royal Academy Schools in 2010.
Michael Armitage's paintings are an expression of both personal experience and collective trauma, which he couples with a local imagery of symbols and mythology. In doing so, there is an underlying optimism to his works: they suggest that Kenya is a culture in a state of flux and while it certainly has some archaic aspects, these should not be considered as fully representative of Kenyan culture. There is much to be celebrated and Armitage sees these positive aspects as a critical element in addressing Kenya's social issues.
In his conversation with Kudzanai-Violet Hwami for Ocula Magazine in 2019, Armitage said that he avoids using intimate images as the source of his paintings because 'the sources are all on the same playing field and it's just about different ways of telling a narrative.'
The aesthetic qualities of Michael Armitage's work are instrumental in delivering his observations as they add depth and mystery. His use of gestural and flowing brushstrokes creates a lush expressiveness, recalling the dreamlike colour palette of the Fauvists. Armitage's subject matter, however, is not idyllic paradise but allusions to the realities of modern Kenya.
Michael Armitage often paints on Lubugo bark cloth, traditionally a material for burial shrouds and other ceremonies for the Buganda people in Uganda. As the artist told MoMA Magazine in 2020, however, objects made out of lubugo cloth have been commodified as tourist mementos and curios. In his paintings, Armitage reclaims Lubugo cloth to address the reduction of the meaning of culturally significant items while paying attention to the materialities of the cloth as he paints.
Armitage's work has been included in a number of international art exhibitions, among them May You Live in Interesting Times, the 58th International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale; Drawing Biennial 2017 in London; and La vie moderne: 13th Biennale de Lyon in France. In Taipei Biennial 2020, he showed Strange Fruit (2016), an oil painting on Lubugo bark cloth in which a female figure hangs from a Bambakofi tree.
Select solo exhibitions include Paradise Edict, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2020); The Promised Land, MCA Australia, Sydney (2019); The Chapel, South London Gallery (2017); Peace Coma, Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK (2017); Strange Fruit, White Cube, Hong Kong (2017); MATRIX 263, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, California (2016); Myth and Market (with John Tiney), Studio 1.1, London (2013).
Select group exhibitions include Prisoner of Love, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2019); Talisman in the Age of Difference, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London (2018); Now, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2017); Prospect. 4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp, New Orleans (2017).
Ocula | 2021