Michael Armitage by George Darrell. Courtesy of White Cube.
Thin seams rise up from beneath Michael Armitage’s lush, oil-painted scenes, like memories that lie just beneath consciousness. The artist paints on a traditional Ugandan bark cloth, called lugobo, which gives his surfaces intriguing inconsistencies. He draws his imagery from popular culture and his own past in Kenya, which makes for dreamlike, psychologically rich presentations. Though the artist has shown with mega-gallery White Cube since 2015, he’s currently in the spotlight as his paintings earn much-deserved acclaim at the Venice Biennale. Additionally, his first solo museum show in New York will open this October at the freshly expanded Museum of Modern Art, in partnership with the Studio Museum in Harlem.
Studio Museum director and chief curator Thelma Golden, who is curating the exhibition, remarked that Armitage is “expanding the possibilities of contemporary painting by bringing a fresh and sometimes challenging perspective to the shared histories of Kenya and the U.K.” She applauded his ability to unite his interest in Western modernism with his appreciation for the practices of East African artists, including Meek Gichugu, Chelenge van Rampelberg, and Jak Katarikawe.
Apsara DiQuinzio, curator of Armitage’s 2016–17 show at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, similarly emphasized the artist’s “poignant” and “visionary” work that suggests new dialogues between Western and non-Western cultures. DiQuinzio pointed to Armitage’s riffs on Paul Gauguin, challenging “the exoticization of the ‘other’ that Gauguin problematically represented.” This year, Armitage also had a solo show at Turin’s Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, and was included in “Prisoner of Love” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.