Michael Armitage is a Kenyan-British painter based in London whose work has a basis in East African tradition. His paintings are both an expression of personal experience and collective lament to the issues that he considers, but he also couples this 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 certainly has some archaic aspects, but these should not be 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.Read More
The aesthetic qualities of Armitage’s work are instrumental in delivering the socio/political ideas he observes, as they provide an added depth and mysticism to the paintings. His gestural and flowing application of paint creates a lush expressiveness that recalls the dreamlike, escapist colour palette of the Fauvists, although this is certainly no representation of some idyllic paradise. Armitage’s works have an unsettling nature to them, hinting and alluding to the realities of modern Kenyan society, allowing the works to be a poetic recollection of events, ones that evoke emotion in the viewer, rather than a purely historical document. Armitage’s use of Lubugo bark cloth in particular gives his works profundity and added abstraction, allowing for more thoughtful consideration of the matters at hand. Traditionally a material for burial shrouds, Armitage saw it being sold to tourists as mementos and curios; the commodification of this meaningful material reducing it to a banal object. By reclaiming the Lubugo cloth, Armitage both addresses this reduction of meaning in culturally significant items and provides a greater sense of narrative, as the physical nature of the cloth dictates how the painted forms appear on the surface and the process of making and working on the cloth suggests a similarity to the narratives of East African mythologies.
By utilising a strong sense of place in his works coupled with signifiers of Western art history, Armitage also puts into question the ‘colonial gaze’ traditionally held by Western artists, so as to dispel any preconceptions about East African culture held by outside viewers. By manipulating this deeply entrenched idea, Armitage is able to reveal the true realities of Kenya to an otherwise misinformed audience, both highlighting uncomfortable elements and showcasing Kenya’s rich culture and heritage.
Born in 1984 in Nairobi, Kenya, Michael Armitage moved to England to study, earning himself a BA in Fine Art at the Slade School of Fine Art and a postgraduate diploma from the Royal Academy Schools. Group exhibitions which he was involved in include Ascension, Simon Oldfield, London, 2008; Connecting Worlds, UBM, London, 2013; Myth and Market’ (with John Tiney), Studio 1:1, London, 2013; 100 Painters of Tomorrow, Beers Contemporary, London, 2014; Tomorrow : London, South London Gallery, 2014; La vie moderne, The 13th Lyon Biennale, 2015; Painting is Not Doomed to Repeat Itself, Hollis Taggart Galleries, New York, 2015; and Imitation of Life: Melodrama and Race in the 21st Century, HOME, Manchester, 2016. Armitage has also showcased his work in solo exhibitions at White Cube in London in 2015.
In the early decades of its existence, New York 's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), founded in 1929, transformed from a philanthropic project modestly housed in a few rooms of the Heckscher Building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, to an alleged operating node in the United States' cultural struggle during the cold war, and one of the...
Artists Michael Armitage and Kudzanai-Violet Hwami discuss how painting allows them to navigate their contexts in this edited transcript of a conversation that took place at Gasworks, London.
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