GALLERIES: An imagination of planes and voids
7 months ago, 25 Maý 18:11
You cannot turn a corner in Nairobi without seeing a new building reaching for the sky. Whether an office block or highrise apartment, a boom is under way.
The same is true of Kampala, Dar es Salaam and Kigali… but whether these spanking suites will ever be occupied or we are witnessing a speculators’ bubble, our grandchildren will be here to see.
All this concrete and glass does at least prove cities are dynamic and that each generation leaves its trace — a tracking of our need, ambition or purely our greed — to show future residents we left our mark as surely as the builders of, say, Great Zimbabwe, Axum or Timbuktu.
Recording all this with an artist’s eye is a painter who adopted an abstract style to capture the internal geometry, planes and voids of all this energy.
He is Sidney Mang’ong’o and 27 of his paintings can be seen in Imagined Structures until June 9 at the Circle Art Gallery in Lavington, Nairobi.
Mang’ong’o is fascinated by the textures and contrasting colours of these spaces and his paintings — layers of acrylic on the ragged, rough surfaces of thick paper flour sacks — are offered in nine groups of three, following his habit of exploring form and colour in clusters.
Each however is sufficiently self-contained to stand alone, although the related paintings can be combined as diptychs or hung, as at the Circle, as triptychs.
It is, surprisingly, Mang’ong’o’s first solo exhibition. He seems to have been around for ages with his sensuously textured paintings wrought from pasted wads of street posters; compressed advertisements and flyers.
Primarily figurative in his early days he appears to have been overcome by the raw beauty and potential of his media, morphing from fairly literal small portraits and an exploration of migration with his Bantu River series to the pure abstraction we see in this exhibition, covering the past two years.
It is possible nonetheless to discern a clear timeline. The earlier pieces are more linear, the later ones more blocky.
It is as though the artist has moved from investigating the internal structures of buildings with their tie lines, columns and the tensile threads that bind spaces together (the idea came to mind of exposing as in X-rays the steel skeleton that underpins buildings) to addressing the formal architecture that creates an interplay of shapes and shadows within rooms.
For the earlier paintings see Untitled 8, 16, 21 and 22. For the later pieces, look at the groups Untitled 10,11, 12 and Untitled 13, 14, 15.
For my money, although the earlier paintings have a certain probing elegance, the latter win the day; particularly 10, 11 and 12 with their simple but striking palette of Indian red, dusky blue and black. Their emphasis on the solidity of form enhanced by fleeting light makes these last six a litmus test.
If you like them you are on the button; if at first you do not, give them another long look and enjoy your reward.
In all the paintings in this show, ...
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