By Stephen Ssenkaaba
Three years ago, Ian Mwesiga’s ambition was to paint beautiful images. His idea of beauty was predictable: colourful city scapes, particularly of the messy dusty streets of Kampala. He also painted the common outdoors.
Today, this young man presents an interestingly different body of work. It couldn’t be farther from his initial obsession with cityscapes and life on the streets.
Mwesiga is a fresh graduate from Makerere University school of Industrial and Fine Arts, he is a painting major. He also recently concluded a three months arts residence at 32º East- a training and consultation visual arts centre in Kansanga.
His first solo exhibition is on at AKA Gallery, Hannington Road, behind the Crested Towers buildings.
The three week exhibition presents over 20 paintings of Mwesiga’s latest work, in which he seems to explore his own place as an artist. He re-examines his journey from the times that simple impressions of city streets formed the bulk of his subject matter to what he calls a “more mature and considered style”.
A new style
Mwesiga’s subject matter remains simple: daily life. It is about the human being and his surroundings, but from a more artistically sophisticated perspective. In some part of his work, Mwesiga presents a series of paintings with female figures, showcasing the multifaceted life of today’s woman.
Shapely feminine bodies entangled in a maze of clutter- represented here with thick lines and short random shades of paint and intricate geometric patterns.
Mwesiga presents the subject of women at a time when a new anti–pornography law is particularly targeting women for what lawmakers call immodest dressing. In a rather ticklish manner, he presents female bodies in a semi-nude form.
His take on portraiture is intriguing: faces with deep introspective eyes wired in uncoordinated line patterns and exaggerated facial features. Much of this work comes in mundane almost raw form, with very little attention to fine finishing.
You see more of a drawing than a painting pattern to it.
“There is beauty here,” Mwesiga says, “but not beauty as the ordinary eye knows it.”
The beauty beyond
From an ordinary viewer’s perspective, Mwesiga’s new style is not eye-candy; seeing as it is devoid of much visual aesthetic elements. However, there is an intrinsic beauty to it, which will call for deeper reflection to find.
It is the beauty found in the randomness of lines that bring out the free, expressiveness of this artist; of the deep reflective figures that hauntingly stare right back at you; of the naïve, almost childish rendering of colour, form and subject matter that will provoke you to think and question.
Paintings of street life now appear in a more distorted, yet richer and more expressive form with thick random glazes of paint across the canvass.
I see a radical change by this artist from a representational style to a more abstract and Western rendering of his subject matter. There is no doubt that his three months residence at the 32º East centre has had a great influence on Mwesiga’s style.
Perhaps more importantly, as an individual, the promising artist feels that his experience has put him on a road to self-discovery. It will be interesting to see how he evolves over the years. His exhibition will be up until the end of the month.