SACRED & PROFANE: MICHAEL ARMITAGE@SOUTH LONDON GALLERY

EXHIBITION 

Any number of clever historical art references may be deciphered in these eight new works by London-based, Kenyan-born artist Armitage (a touch of Manet and Degas here, a soupçon of Titian there), but what lingers in memory and haunts the senses is his singular techniques and imagery, informed equally by folklore, cultural ritual and an acute psychological concentration. Realism and fantasy harmoniously co-exist, the canvas happily accommodating manifold spiritual, cosmic and chronal states. Lacuna celebrates forebearers, who shimmeringly share the landscape with the present generation, an enduring influence and presence, an overlay of lizards perhaps symbolising cyclical regeneration, all existing at once. Four points of incandescent light, a group of celestial beings, are plugged directly into the earth, profoundly entangled in the complex root systems of forest and tree, in Seraph. What at first may appear as frolic (a tribal celebration of the season, a harvest festival) is actually a village ceremony devoted to the public exorcism of its female members (unsurprisingly the title of which is Exorcism). Armitage uses as a base Ugandan lubugo bark cloth onto which he directly paints, which yields a rapturously earthy, eruptive and rough texture, which he further ruptures by punching through, pockmarking his paintings with wounds and voids, charged black holes which may at any given moment suck everything into an annihilating vacuum. As this very historical cloth has, in recent years, been bastardised and belittled into a tourist commodity, Armitage’s use of it is a means by which to reappropriate a culturally significant artifact. Elsewhere baboons copulate, witches sit astride flying hyenas, nuns’ visages take on reptilian features, references to possession and mental breakdown. Colours bleed down the canvas, shifting and jolting in rhythm, and sutures drive across almost every frame, as if Armitage has torn them all in half, then performed surgery on them (everything is stitched together), a series of fissures. These are agitated, destabilised, but perilously alive pictures. The Chapel continues through 23 February

http://www.southlondongallery.org/michael-armitage-the-chapel/

 

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