phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Michael Armitage: The Chapel at the South London Gallery
Image Credit: Michael Armitage, Lacuna, 2017. © Michael Armitage. Photo © White Cube (George Darrell). Courtesy of the Artist and White Cube.

Michael Armitage: The Chapel at the South London Gallery

16 December 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

The South London Gallery often host new work from up and coming artists. In Michael Armitage’s first major solo show, 8 paintings are hung around the central gallery space. The title of this showing ‘The Chapel’ speaks to this very space, and introduces the theme of religion and worship into the canvases.

Each painting, with their idiosyncratic colour schemes, textured surfaces, and blurred boundaries between figure and colour, seems in conversation with one another. It appears as if Armitage is using each canvas to adapt or amend his thoughts, translating issues from painting to painting to pose questions about representation and form. Very unusually, all eight paintings have been completed in 2017, making them entirely contemporary and giving visitors the opportunity to interact with art made in the very moment.

Armitage’s work engages with East African contemporary history and politics, as well as founding myths and stories, and religious imagery. These paintings complicate the idea of representing these stories, both the impossibilities of transcribing folklore, as well as the cultural assumptions that we, as Western viewers, may have about what folklore from other countries actually entails.  This impossibility is paradoxically communicated through the striking use of colour and shapes in these paintings.  Armitage contrasts the depiction of figures and landscapes with the colours through which they are communicated, asking: how does our reaction to colour affect our response to content?

Two paintings in particular stick out: ‘Lacuna’ and ‘Exorcism’ are the two largest of his canvases, containing multiple figures and faces. ‘Exorcism’ depicts a ritual in Tanzania, where women gather in public to be exorcised. In the large groups of people together, or couples dancing, the painting does not make it clear whether this is a cause for celebration or something more sinister.  The faces are just washes of colour in greens or greys, again obscuring the reactions to the event. ‘Lacuna’ also obscures any central meaning, but through formal confusion of foreground and background.  In the broad washes of greys, greens and yellows, faces and bodies merge, hovering above the water in which stands a boat.  In both, human activities are shown, but the internal dramas are not on display; this not only represents the ambiguity of human feeling but also does not allow for one particular reading to be given to each image.

The notes that accompany the exhibition explain that Armitage references the history of Western Art through composition, naming specifically Gauguin and Titian. Across these paintings, Gauguin’s influence feels particularly clear in the arrangement of the landscape, particularly in the interplay between foreground and background, and the contrasting use of colour.  In harking back to earlier forms of landscape and figure painting, Armitage places his paintings in a historical wider context, thinking about how people have been represented in their surroundings. But this also posits the question of how Western artistic practices can represent the everyday experience of people in East Africa.

There also seems to be another influence at work in these images, both in colour and form: the Russian painter Marc Chagall. This is particularly apparent in Armitage’s use of a vivid green line shaping figures in the background of ‘Exorcism’, as well as a patch of colour in the background of ‘Conjestina’.  Chagall famously combined dream-like sequences and animal imagery in his work, exploring the problems of communicating folklore and history through painting. Armitage seems to be thinking through similar issues, making connections between narrative and image, between tales of the past and dreams.  

Armitage uses lubugo bark cloth, a Ugandan material, as the canvas of all of his paintings. This cloth is made from ficus tree bark, and was a common part of dress in Uganda, before the popularisation of cotton. Now, the cloth is still used as part of traditional ceremonies, whilst also being produced as souvenirs for tourists. In using this cloth, Armitage literally paints over tradition, whilst also incorporating it into his work. In this, Armitage asks if people can ever truly remove themselves from the past.

Armitage’s explores the relationship between traditional painterly composition and the limitations of representation. This is an exhibition full of ideas, giving visitors the opportunity to think about the physical location of meaningful art. It is also a rare opportunity to see work that has been produced so recently, giving the room a sense of urgency and relevancy.
 
Michael Armitage: The Chapel at the South London Gallery until 23 February 2018. Entrance free.
 
 

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Sounds and Sorcery

Sounds and Sorcery

The Vaults are transformed! Gone is the grotty central tunnel with its damp and humid caves branching off. Through a newly created side entrance you…

Art in the Park

Art in the Park

A gallery may not be your go-to summer activity (though with the recent sunny spells they’re a great place to escape from the heat), but what…

Painted Hall Ceiling Tour at Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Painted Hall Ceiling Tour at Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich

Get seriously up close and personal with one of the world’s greatest pieces of ceiling art.

This week: 23 – 29 July

This week: 23 – 29 July

Summer is getting to that stage where, if you are not on holidays yet, things can start to drag... We can't offer sandy beaches but…

Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One at Tate Britain

Aftermath: Art in the Wake of World War One at Tate Britain

Marking 100 years since the end of WW1, Tate Britain’s latest exhibition explores the effect the conflict had on subsequent British, French and German art.

This week: 20-26 August

This week: 20-26 August

The past heatwave was intense but we got so used to sweating, we are almost missing it! Just back from holidays? Return to the office…

Gold Rush! Free Summer Family Activity at the Bank of England Museum

Gold Rush! Free Summer Family Activity at the Bank of England Museum

Do you have what it takes to solve a 100-year old mystery at the Bank of England Museum?

Win tickets to Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire!

National Gallery - Win tickets to Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire!

We're offering three lucky London Calling readers the chance to win a pair of tickets to the National Gallery's Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire exhibition!

An Interview with designer Lucy Stephens

An Interview with designer Lucy Stephens

Book cover designer Lucy Stephens set up LucyLovesThis, a small design studio in Brixton, where she creates hand-draws illustrations revolving around her favourite thing -…

Most popular

Win a tree house space for up to 10 people at Beautiful Allotment and two bottles of bubbly courtesy of The Geffrye Museum

Beautiful Allotment & Geffrye Museum - Win a tree house space for up to 10 people at Beautiful Allotment and two bottles of bubbly courtesy of The Geffrye Museum

No plans yet for Bank Holiday Sunday 26 August? How about your very own pocket of serene English countryside in the city!
AIM to Win 5 Tickets to Psychopath’s Den Immersive Escape Room Experience!

Aim Escape - AIM to Win 5 Tickets to Psychopath’s Den Immersive Escape Room Experience!

Can you escape a dreadful fate, or will you become another blood stained, or blood drained, statistic?
Win a pair of tickets for ‘Lucky: Songs By Kylie’

Crazy Coqs/Live at Zedel - Win a pair of tickets for ‘Lucky: Songs By Kylie’

Award-winning cabaret sensation Michael Griffiths will spin you around with his tribute to Kylie Minogue!
Win tickets to Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire!

National Gallery - Win tickets to Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire!

Enter for the chance to win a pair of tickets to the National Gallery's Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire Exhibition.
This week: 30 July – 5 August

This week: 30 July – 5 August

Stuck in the city this summer? Lucky you!
Win a pair tickets to Blood Wedding

Omnibus Theatre - Win a pair tickets to Blood Wedding

This contemporary adaptation of celebrated Spanish dramatist Federico García Lorca’s tragedy is set in modern day London.
Sounds and Sorcery

Sounds and Sorcery

The Vaults are host to an inventive and imaginative conception of Disney’s cult film ‘Fantasia’, interpreted as an immersive environment of installations and performance.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!