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Abstract art: let the shades, canvasspeak

Abstract art: let the shades, canvas speak

An exhibition of his recent workby Fikru Gebre Mariam produced since 2014 are currently on view at Alliance Ethio-Française. Opening day of Chasing Dreams, Shaping Destiny attracted one of the largest turnouts a single artist’s exhibition has garnered in Addis Ababa.

Fikru describes his work as driven by an internal process that exists beyond the confines of social, economic or political aspects of everyday life. The canvases contain an integral part of his identity. “I’m sometimes pushing myself to paint even when I am not in the mood. After 20 minutes, a half-hour of work I am in the mood. I see myself as a conductor between color and the canvas. I am a composer, a mediator. I am not a creator.”

This approach seems to free him of the burden of having to explain his work in specific terms. It also seems to have embraced the non-representational philosophy of abstraction.

“I am the first audience of my paintings,” says Fikru as he explains his process. As his style has grown less figurative and more abstractive, he has come to eschew the ideation and form that comes before even touching the canvas. He paints by instinct. Colors, composition, form, all happen at a subconscious level. “Goal can’t come ahead of canvas. This is a conversation with form and color,” he adds.

Renowned art historian EsseyeGebreMedhin says it is difficult to learn to paint in this manner. “His work is unique for this society. Abstract art is never finished. This is beyond the boundaries of culture, religion, politics or society. It is clean, clean. It has no jazz.” Esseye compares Fikru’s pieces with early abstract American artist Jackson Pollock. This can mean Fikru’s works may withstand the test of time.

Fikru has long pointed TadesseMesfinas his mentor and his earlier works were influenced by the figurative images of still women. In his practice, over the last two decades, Fikru has altered these images a great deal. “The figures are still there. They’ve been mutilated in the process. They have disappeared in the process. Background has become foreground. The figures still hide in the paints.”

Art lovers in Addis should take advantage of Chasing Dreams, Shaping Destiny before it closes. Fikru’s pieces require multiple viewings. They are intense at first glance, deeply warm hues marred by dark and unsettling forces. A few of his earlier pieces that were also on view at his self-titled show ‘Fikru’ at the National Museum two years ago offer hints of figuration, images of women, masks, patterns that offer a familiar threat to hold on to when approaching his more recent paintings.

He approaches his practice with calm and uncompromising self-assurance. “Everybody can be an artist. It is just a matter of consistency and hard work. But, the question is how far can you go? You have to put yourself into the art and create from there,” he says.

Fikru has shown his work worldwide in over 50 exhibitions and across three continents. He has long been one of the highest selling contemporary Ethiopian artists. Since moving back to Ethiopia 6 years ago, Fikru has been working full time on these paintings. The relationship between aesthetic and commercial value especially in relation to the works of living and contemporary artists will add a layer of complexity to the objectivity of viewers.