“Paradise Edict” Michael Armitage at the Royal Academy

Michael Armitage has become one of the most exciting voices in contemporary painting. In his large-format, nuanced oil paintings, he combines East African and European motifs and painting traditions.

He draws inspiration from political events, pop culture, folklore and personal memories, weaving these into mythically charged and dreamlike images.

With “Paradise Edict” Michael Armitage celebrates a major presentation of his work at the Royal Academy, London.  His paintings are to many viewers an attractive and surprisingly familiar experience – a kind of déjà vu. The iconography of Titian, Francisco de Goya, Édouard Manet, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Egon Schiele can be found in the works’ compositional elements, motifs and color combinations.

Living and working between London and Nairobi, Armitage paints with oil on Lubugo, a traditional bark cloth from Uganda, which is beaten over a period of days creating a natural material which when stretched has occasional holes and coarse indents. As noted by the artist, the use of Lubugo is at once an attempt to locate and destabilise the subject of his paintings.

Applying the paint in layers, Armitage scrapes, revises and repaints his compositions. The visual iconography of East Africa lies at the heart of his practice: its urban and rural landscape, colonial and modern vernacular architecture, advertising hoardings, lush vegetation and varied animal life.

Undermining this rich colour palette and dream-like imagery, however, is a quiet exposition of Kenya’s sometimes harsh reality: its politics, social inequalities, violence and extreme disparities in wealth. In turn, Armitage reflects on the more absurd aspects of the everyday, commenting on both society and the surrounding natural environment – evoked with a lyrical and phantasmagorical vision.

The artist claims that ‘Painting is a way of thinking through something, trying to understand an experience or an event a little better and trying to communicate something of the problem to others’.

Having grown up in Kenya and trained at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Armitage skillfully addresses the European view and the associated exoticism when looking at the ‘other.’ The artist’s palette and symbolism are equally inspired by East African artists.

Paradise Edict” // Michael Armitage // The Royal Academy // London, UK // Exhibition on view through September 2021