The Line Art Group’s exhibition of contemporary local paintings at National Museum of Ethiopia opened on April 16, 2011.
The Line Art Group consists of Adamseged Michael, Biruk Mengistu, Girma Bulti, Mekoya Kiros, and Solomon Teshome, established artists on the local scene.
“We are friends in painting,” said Girma, the curator of the exhibition and art expert at the National Museum who is also an exhibitor. “While our styles of painting are diverse, we have the same concept of art as an art form.”
The reason for choosing the “Line Group” as their combined exhibition name has a double meaning that holds sway with their similar ideologies.
“The one meaning of a line is that of the line used in sketching and drawing,” Girma told Fortune during a guided of the exhibition on Monday, April 18, 2011. “The other meaning is of a line as indicating direction, or a trajectory. The five members of the group think alike.”
Despite this similar thinking, their backgrounds and styles differ dramatically, ranging from realism to impressionism and expressionism to semi-abstract and conceptual work.
Each participant contributed around 20 paintings to amount to a total of 90 art works on show on both levels of the exhibition hall, which is located in a separate building on the same compound as the National Museum on King George VI Street in Amist Kilo.
Girma’s work is realistic in that the subject matter is based on Ethiopian culture. “Gudifecha” depicts a traditional adoption ceremony, where the matriarch of the family of many children hands over her newborn to a childless woman in the countryside.
His “Scenes of Oromia II” and “Dawn” similarly depict traditional life, showing his impression of the region through the image of a woman in traditional Oromo dress performing a cultural activity, such as toting water and herding sheep, in a realistic style.
The style used by Biruk in his painting is likewise realistic, although it contains decorative aspects. The subject dominating his works is that of women and the way he views their friendships. The figures of the women he depicts are realistic in that they are identifiable as such and his use of colour is bright with much green, gold, and shimmering browns.
“Sabategna” shows five women, like himself and his co-exhibitors, perhaps, sitting in a line, looking similar but not the same, holding each other in a friendly grip, celebrating their unity in diversity, a reflection of the exhibition which is surprisingly coherent, given the diversity of the works on show together.
Mekoya is also a realist, as shown by his “Self Portrait.” He also depicts some traditional scenes, such as “Ketera Temket,” a picture of the ceremony performed by priests around the Epiphany celebrations, and “Demera,” a large bonfire.
However, he does not sick exclusively to realism and his “Battle of Adwa” expresses the battle in an abstract manner with mostly only the movement discernable, from which viewers derive the impression of an ongoing battle at the centre of the piece.
Girma also dabbles in expressionism in his “Full Figures,” a work of which the focus is more on the movement seen in the painting than on the realism of the detail of the depicted subject.
However, impressionism dominates the art of Adamseged, whose work is the nearest to impressionist than that of any of the other “Line Group” artists. The focus in his work is on the movement of the scenes while detail takes a back seat, such as in “Unity.”
At first it appears to be tall trees clustered together; however, it could also resemble human figures standing together in a small group to form a unit.
“This is pure impressionism,” Girma said of the painting by way iof explanation.
The impressionism present in some of Adamseged’s other paintings are not as pure, as the works contain other elements. For example, his “Moving Figures,” in which the white-clad strolling figures in the foreground seem really to be moving contains some detail in the facial expressions of the figures. The same is true of “Lovers,” showings a couple cuddling on a couch.
Girma also mixes realism with abstractions in some of his work. “Virgin Land” depicts three boys that are discernable in shape (it is thus not wholly abstract) but without facial expressions (nor is it fully realistic).
On the other hand, Solomon is a traditional painter who uses a decorative style of flat figures and patterns, much after the fashion of traditional church mural paintings.
“From a historical perspective, the first round of Ethiopian painting was ‘cultural,’ depicting traditional subject matter using found materials,” Girma told Fortune. “The second round was ‘traditional,’ depicting the same subjects but using ‘modern’ materials such as oil paint.
Aside from using decorative designs in paintings, another feature setting Ethiopian painting apart from the traditions of other countries is that it depicts Jesus Christ as black, instead of blonde and blue-eyed, according to Girma. The third feature is the shape in which eyes are depicted; usually it is shown as large, in the shape of an oval, the top lids droping down, he explained.
All these features have a strong presence in Solomon’s work and traces of it can be seen in the small watercolours of Girma, some of which show a strong decorative influence mixed with elements that lean more towards being abstract, realistic, or any combination.
All the works forming part of the exhibition, which will run until April 30, 2011, are for sale. Entrance to the exhibition is free.