For his 2021 exhibition, Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, Michael Armitage was awarded the South Bank Sky Arts Award under the Visual Art category. Winners were announced at a ceremony on July 10 at The Savoy Hotel in London.
On view from May through September in 2021, Paradise Edict featured Armitage’s paintings alongside a selection of thirty-one works by six East African contemporary artists, chosen by Armitage for their important role in shaping figurative painting in Kenya, as well as their profound impact on Armitage’s own artistic development. Paradise Edict was previously exhibited at Haus der Kunst, Munich, in 2020.
The South Bank Sky Arts Award celebrates its 26th anniversary this year, and is hosted by Sky Arts, a UK television channel dedicated to the arts.
Learn more about the South Bank Sky Arts Awards at Sky News.
Michael Armitage to Design New £1 Coin
It has been announced that artist Michael Armitage will design a new £1 coin that will enter into circulation in the UK in 2023. Armitage’s design for the reverse or “tails” side of the coin will mark the currency’s 40th anniversary.
At the announcement at the Royal College of Art on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who chose the artist on the advice of an independent panel of experts, said that Armitage’s new design will celebrate the “culture, creativity, and heritage and history” of the UK in the 21st century.
Armitage, who was born in Kenya and currently lives and works in Nairobi and London, added, “It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Royal Mint on the design of the new £1 coin. It is an honour to be part of the lineage of coin-making in the United Kingdom and I am grateful to the Chancellor and the selection panel for the opportunity to contribute to this history in considering what it is to be part of Great Britain today.”
Learn more about Armitage’s selection and the coin at gov.uk.
May 20–September 4, 2022
You, Who Are Still Alive is Michael Armitage’s first exhibition in Switzerland. The focus of the show is an ambitious group of new works—moody, sumptuously layered figurative paintings drawing equally from past and current events, recollections and mythology, popular culture and art historical references. What results are haunting and provocative reflections on politics, history, civil unrest, and humanity.
On Friday, June 17 from 5–6 PM, Armitage will discuss his work in a talk at Art Basel with Ellen Gallagher and Manthia Diawara, moderated by Hans Ulrich Obrist. The conversation will take place at Auditorium, Hall 1.0 ground floor. This event is free and open to the public. To learn more, visit Art Basel.
March 17, 2022 – David Zwirner is pleased to announce the joint representation of Michael Armitage with White Cube. David Zwirner will present new work by Armitage in New York in 2024.
The drawings and paintings of Kenyan-British artist Michael Armitage have given shape to real and imagined histories of East Africa, constructing deeply rooted but nuanced impressions of the myriad sociopolitical and cultural contexts that affect contemporary daily life in the region. Armitage amasses research and initiates preparatory drawings in and around Nairobi, which he then translates into large-scale figurative paintings that take months or years to complete in his London studio. In an additive and subtractive process, he builds up and thins out layers of pigment on the highly textured surfaces of Ugandan Lubugo bark cloth, a material traditionally reserved for ritual purposes. Executed in a distinctive palette, these sweeping tableaux vividly combine images and motifs from recent events, the art-historical canon, his East African artistic milieu, and his own memories, among other references, generating space for the spiritual and the symbolic as well. Using painting as a means of processing and reappraising these untold histories, Armitage’s practice subtly collapses its established formal considerations and creates lyrical visual accounts that expand the storytelling possibilities of the medium through an insistence on the lack of fixity of meaning. Ultimately, his compositions are the result of a series of carefully considered, formal decisions that bring together influences from these different strains of global art history, blending them seamlessly on the same picture plane and, in doing so, subverting the dominant narratives.
In the artist’s words, “There is a poetic side of art that you cannot trust as a historical document, but it is the poetic side that can be moving and that can also provide a subtle, less political way of questioning a situation.”
In 2020, Armitage founded the Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute (NCAI) to promote art by practitioners in East Africa. The groundbreaking nonprofit arts venue hosts exhibitions, curatorial research residencies, libraries, and archives, as well as other educational initiatives that enrich the discourse on contemporary creative practices in the region. In the future, NCAI has plans to develop a postgraduate fine arts program, among other wide-reaching resources.
Following on from Armitage’s solo show at Kunsthalle Basel opening in May 2022, White Cube, which has represented the artist since 2015, will present an exhibition of his work this year in London. In New York, Armitage’s work is currently on view in The Drawing Center’s spring 2022 group exhibition, Drawing in the Continuous Present, which captures the scope of contemporary drawing practices across the globe. An exhibition of new drawings and paintings curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and organized by the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin, was on view at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid earlier this year.
David Zwirner stated, “It is an honor to welcome Michael Armitage, a singular voice in painting, to the gallery. I became a fan during Ralph Rugoff’s 2019 Venice Biennale, where Michael’s work was front and center and a true revelation to me. I then got to know Michael during his exhibition at MoMA, which was organized in collaboration with The Studio Museum in Harlem. Not only is he an extraordinary artist, but also a thoughtful and generous human being. His new arts institute, the Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute (NCAI), promises to be one of the most exciting spaces for contemporary art on the African continent, and I can’t wait to visit it. I am especially excited to see Michael’s new work at the Kunsthalle Basel this year and, of course, look forward to his first exhibition in New York in 2024. I am also looking forward to working collaboratively with Jay Jopling and White Cube, friends and colleagues who we have known so well since the early 1990s.”
Michael Armitage was born in 1984 in Nairobi, Kenya, and currently lives and works in Nairobi and London. He received his BFA from the Slade School of Fine Art, London, in 2007, and a postgraduate diploma from the Royal Academy Schools, London, in 2010. The artist was elected a Royal Academician of Painting in December 2021. He was also the recipient of the Ruth Baumgarte Art Award in 2020.
In 2021, Michael Armitage: Account of an Illiterate Man was presented by Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen. The solo exhibition Michael Armitage. Paradise Edict debuted in 2020 at Haus der Kunst, Munich, and traveled to the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2021.
Other monographic exhibitions have taken place at prominent venues internationally, such as the Norval Foundation, Cape Town (2020); Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin (2019); Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Sydney (2019); The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in collaboration with The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2019); South London Gallery (2017); Turner Contemporary, Margate, United Kingdom (2017); and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, California (2016).
Work by the artist is included in the prestigious group exhibition British Art Show 9, organized by Hayward Gallery Touring, London, with plans to travel to several venues in the United Kingdom throughout 2022. Work by the artist is also included in Drawing in the Continuous Present, a group exhibition presented by The Drawing Center, New York, which opened in 2022. In 2019, the artist participated in the 58th Venice Biennale. Other notable group exhibitions that the artist has participated in have been presented at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2021); Whitechapel Gallery, London (2020); Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2020, 2019); Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (2018); Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2017); Palazzo Capris, Turin (2015); and the Yuan Museum, Beijing (2015), among others.
The artist’s works are represented in distinguished public collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago; Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo; Dallas Museum of Art; Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh; Norval Foundation, Cape Town; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Tate, United Kingdom; and the Zabludowicz Collection, London.
March 10–May 22, 2022
Comprising nearly a hundred works on paper by thirteen artists from ten different countries, Drawing in the Continuous Present explores how a new generation of artists is placing drawing at the center of contemporary art discourse. The exhibition brings together works on paper by some of today’s most significant artistic voices, including Michael Armitage, Javier Barrios, Jesse Darling, Maren Karlson, Christine Sun Kim, Helen Marten, Jean Katambayi Mukendi, Julien Nguyen, Sanou Oumar, Walter Price, Florencia Rodríguez Giles, Johanna Unzueta, and He Xiangyu.
The title of the exhibition, Drawing in the Continuous Present, is borrowed from a 2017 talk given by artist Amy Sillman in which she speaks, via Gertrude Stein, of drawing’s “continuously present” temporality. The notion of the “continuous present” pertains to the ways in which the featured artists employ drawing’s immediacy to mediate their relationships with the world around them. Guided by The Drawing Center’s long-standing support of contemporary drawing practices and practitioners, Drawing in the Continuous Present highlights drawing as a major form of expression for this group of artists, whose works reflect a myriad of experiences and methods. To demonstrate drawing’s possibilities, the exhibition’s five thematic sections highlight different ways that the artists utilize the medium: imagining; spiritualizing; translating; fantasizing; altering language.
With its wide-ranging scope, the exhibition underscores drawing as expansive and open-ended, and provides insight into how and why artists from different backgrounds and with different aims have given the practice primary importance in the past two years, the period during which the majority of the works in the exhibition have been made. As society and culture have shifted to confront the devastation wrought by the pandemic and ongoing social and economic inequities, many artists have returned to drawing’s rawness and physicality. Though Drawing in the Continuous Present does not explicitly address these global issues, the works and the context in which they have been made are inseparable. This exhibition marks a moment when the direct experience of drawing makes it a timely tool to navigate our continuously present reality.
February 4–March 1, 2022
Michael Armitage is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Spain, on view at the Calcografía Nacional at La Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, the exhibition presents a dialogue between Armitage’s work and the work of Francisco de Goya, who is well represented in the permanent collection of the Academia. The artist will exhibit a total of nineteen artworks—five paintings and fourteen drawings—that resonate with Goya’s through their dreamlike, ambiguous, and supernatural undertones.
The exhibition aims to shed light on the bonds between the two artists. “Although they work two centuries apart, they share meticulous observations of their respective periods,” Obrist explains. “In both Goya’s and Armitage’s work, there is a particular interest … in what concerns the individual in the socio-political context.” As Obrist observes, the study of how people behave as a mass—as seen in Goya’s paintings—also underpins Armitage’s practice, and direct and indirect references to Goya are constants in Armitage’s work. “Goya changed Armitage’s way of drawing, making him understand that you could do something apparently quickly but in fact built slowly ... Goya is always present in his work.”
For his first solo show in Spain, the Kenyan-British artist will be exhibiting a total of nineteen artworks—five paintings and fourteen drawings.
The works in the exhibition will be rounded off by screenings of Xala, a film by the late Senegalese director and political activist, Ousmane Sembène and the documentary Sembène: The Making of African Cinema by the professor, critic, and filmmaker Manthia Diawara. Both films address the social and political situation of Senegal, echoing the socio-political concerns found in Goya and Armitage’s work.
June 10–October 24, 2021
Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek presents the solo exhibition Michael Armitage – Account of an Illiterate Man with Michael Armitage, one of the most interesting voices in contemporary painting.
Armitage, who was born in Kenya and trained at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, works between East-African and European traditions carefully selected and freely combined in works by the artist. Armitage’s monumental oil paintings interweave political events, pop culture, social media, folklore and personal memories with mythology and dreamlike imagery.
Michael Armitage – Account of an Illiterate Man is the first solo exhibition by the artist in Scandinavia, presenting a series of key works as well as new works on loan from private collectors and major art museums. The exhibition is also the first to present Armitage’s work in a site-specific installation based on the six millennia of art and archaeological artifacts in the Glyptotek’s collections. The installation has been curated in a close collaboration between the Glyptotek and the artist himself.
Armitage divides his time between Nairobi and London, and citing the history and culture of both cities forms the basis of his works. As an artist he draws inspiration from Western avant-garde artists such as Goya, Manet and Gauguin, as well as East-African modernists such as Meek Gichugu (b. 1932, Ngecha, Kenya), Chelenge (b. 1961, Kericho, Kenya), and Jak Katarikawe (c. 1938–2018, Kampala, Uganda). He brings different cultures and epochs into play, also by looking back at antiquity at the same time as not losing sight of contemporary news media and the politics of his native Kenya.
Armitage’s versatile practice can also be seen in his technique. Instead of conventional canvases he paints on Lubugo, a traditional Ugandan bark cloth the artist discovered at a tourist market in Nairobi. Lubugo is made of the bark of fig trees that is soaked, beaten, then dried, developing holes and deep indents when stretched. This is the organic material on which Armitage’s universe unfolds—a landscape of rich, intricate stories.
The Glyptotek continues to present new angles on the museum’s extensive collections of art and ancient artifacts. In close dialogue with Armitage, the museum highlights the artist’s multifaceted cultural heritage by juxtaposing his works with sources of inspiration found in the Glyptotek’s extensive collections. The exhibition takes the form of a series of original, site-specific dialogues in which masterpieces from the French Collection, including Édouard Manet’s The Execution of Emperor Maximilian (1867), Berthe Morisot’s The Wet Nurse (1880), and Paul Cézanne’s The Bathers (1898/1902), can be seen alongside ancient Egyptian creatures of granite and bronze and marble sculptures depicting myths such as that of the god Apollo and King Juba II of Numidia.
May 22–September 19, 2021
This spring—just over ten years since Michael graduated from the Royal Academy Schools—the Royal Academy of Arts presents fifteen of the artist’s large-scale paintings from the past six years, exploring East African landscapes, politics and society.
Titled Paradise Edict, alongside Armitage’s paintings will be a selection of thirty-one works by six East African contemporary artists: Meek Gichugu, Jak Katarikawe, Theresa Musoke, Asaph Ng’ethe Macua, Elimo Njau, and Sane Wadu. Chosen by Armitage for their important role in shaping figurative painting in Kenya, these seminal artists have also had a profound impact on his own artistic development. A version of this part of the exhibition will be shown at the Nairobi Contemporary Art Institute, a non-profit visual arts space founded by Armitage.
Armitage has also selected works by three Kenyan artists—Wangechi Mutu, Magdalene Odundo and Chelenge van Rampelberg—that will be displayed in The Dame Jillian Sackler Sculpture Gallery, just outside the exhibition galleries. This display invites conversations between the three artists’ works and sculptures from the Royal Academy’s collection, which were curated by Richard Deacon RA.
Armitage is a Kenyan-born artist who works between Nairobi and London. His colorful, dreamlike paintings are loaded with provocative perspectives that play with visual narratives and challenge cultural assumptions, exploring politics, history, civil unrest, and sexuality.
Made using Lubugo bark cloth, a culturally important material made of tree bark by the Baganda people in Uganda, many of his large-scale works draw on contemporary events, combining these with Western painting motifs.
The exhibition is organized by Haus der Kunst, Munich, in collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts, London.
Those trained in Western art history will find Armitage’s paintings attractive and surprisingly familiar, experiencing 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. Michael Armitage, who grew up in Kenya and trained at the Slade School of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, 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, to whom a separate room is dedicated as a kind of homage in the Haus der Kunst presentation.