Michael Armitage (b. 1984) is a Kenyan born artist currently living between Nairobi and London. The artist’s predominant concerns are the social and political issues facing our contemporary global society. By weaving multiple narratives, drawn from the media and his native country’s mythologies, Armitage strives to emphasise the universal social problems that many choose to deny. He has a firm belief that art is an agent of social change and through his captivating figurative style, he compels the viewer to take a deeper look at the content his art addresses. Armitage questions the supposed passivity of watching news media: a spectator is already complicit and should ponder their own responsibility towards the reported events.
In his paintings, Armitage intertwines narratives drawn from his memories, and discourses from both Western and East African vantage points. Such approach allows him to raise the discussion of the impact of oppressive narratives from the perspective of either region.
Armitage combines his artistic training in London, (BA from Slade School of Art in 2007, MA Royal Academy, London 2010) with traditional East African hues, materials and techniques. He paints on lubugo bark cloth, a fabric resulting from a laborious process of beating the bark for several days, and eventually stretching it. The entire process leaves the material taut and often with holes and coarse depressions. The atypical surface of the cloth manipulates the manner in which the oil paint is applied and dries, ultimately adding to Armitage’s distinctive amorphous shapes. The Ugandan material is ridden with social and political meaning. It was traditionally used as a burial garment but has contemporarily been commoditised, being sold in East African markets as adapted placemats, baskets and other touristic knickknacks.
b. 1984 in Nairobi (Kenya); lives and works in London (United Kingdom)
Michael Armitage's paintings draw on the subject matter of Kenya, his country of birth. Painting with oil paint onto lubugo, a traditional bark cloth from Uganda, Armitage applies the oil paint in layers, in a process of scraping back, revising and repainting. Producing a broad range of images inspired by news media, East African legends, internet gossip and his own memory. Recent exhibitions include White Cube Bermondsey, and The South London Gallery, both in London.
Michael Armitage paints lyrically figurative landscapes whose starting point is the often hard realities of his native Kenya – the political system, the social inequalities and the violence. He works with successive layers of oil paint on lubugo, a traditional Ugandan bark cloth, in a process of scraping back, revising and repainting that produces a broad range of images inspired by the media, East African legends, the Internet and his own memory. His choice of pastel colours and his dreamlike interpretation of photographic images, his conscious references to an art history with roots in the “Western” modernity of Gauguin, make his works seem like a reworking of great historical painting, but tinged with irony and fantasy.