BY Mimi Chu in Reviews | 25 FEB 21
Featured in
Issue 218

Misheck Masamvu Plays Host Between Worlds 

At Goodman Gallery, the artist’s first UK solo show presents paintings like memories of a hot day revisited in sleep

M
BY Mimi Chu in Reviews | 25 FEB 21

Misheck Masamvu works his oil paints into the canvas gradually, layering brushstrokes to reveal scenes of figures rendered in dynamic motion. Tones and textures diffuse in a strange osmosis, conjuring bodies in environments like memories of a hot day revisited in sleep.

In contrast to the colour blocks of Masamvu’s earlier paintings, such as Heavy Weight Champion (2016), where bodies appear to retreat into mosaics of coppery and aquamarine shades, the works in the artist’s first UK solo show have a new translucency, with figures coming forward in circular motions from negative space. If previous paintings suggested earth and water, Masamvu’s latest works evoke air, his subjects appearing almost to ascend from the canvas in tornados of paint.

misheck masamvu ephemeral space
Misheck Masamvu, Ephemeral Space, 2020, oil on canvas, 250 x 300 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Goodman Gallery, London/ Cape Town

In Thoughts before the Rain (2020), a web of markings creeps around a reclining figure. Black spokes punctuate the contours – eyes, nose, mouth – of the body’s umber-red head and extend down to the chest, as if nourishing and protecting it. (Or are there two bodies: one encased by the other?) The conical outline of a crocodile – a creature with a long history of symbolism in the artist’s native Zimbabwe – zigzags rhythmically around the sleeping form, suggesting breathing movements. Underneath, multiple sweeps of orange, green, red and white create the sense that these figures are being carried upward. This rocking effect, which pervades the entire surface of the canvas, lifts us up and invites us in.

misheck masamvu thoughts
Misheck Masamvu, Thoughts before the Rain, 2020, oil on canvas, 174 x 235 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Goodman Gallery, London/ Cape Town

‘The question is: how much appetite do I still have?’ asks the artist in a 2020 poem that lends its title to this exhibition, ‘Talk to Me While I’m Eating’. Throughout these works, Masamvu interprets the dinner table as the setting of a boundary: between subject and object, self and environment, us and them. It is precisely this state of suspension that his paintings portray so sublimely.

'Misheck Masamvu: Talk to Me while I'm Eating' is on view at Goodman Gallery, London, until 27 February 2021

Main image: Misheck Masamvu, Dopamine (detail), 2020, oil on canvas, 171 x 198 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Goodman Gallery, London/ Cape Town

Mimi Chu is assistant editor of frieze and is based in London, UK.

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