Chilli Art Projects are pleased to present Ishmael Armarh’s 2nd solo show with the gallery, titled “The Masquerade”.
Armarh’s pointillist portraits collapse time and space, resulting in mystical and mysterious compositions that blend the abstract with the figurative. Armarh’s sitters embrace their freedom, roaming empty spaces that are punctuated with riots of colour and gesture - each a celebration of decadence and dinner party culture indicative of the 60s and 70s, but re-imagined within a contemporary African reality. Making direct reference to Truman Capote’s iconic Black and White Ball - often named the greatest party ever - Armarh creates his own reality which celebrates Ghanaian identity within the context of both contemporary forms of fashion and traditional Ghanaian textiles. Armarh’s work reflects on a contemporary African Renaissance occurring across the arts, music & wider culture through the imagery of American high society. Embracing the opulence and narratives of a quasi-mythical story from a peripheral point of view, Armarh makes this Masquerade Ball entirely his own.
Formally, within Armarh’s works there is an enjoyable tension between light, feathery gestural marks and more crude, blunt pointillistic ones. Whilst always rendered in bright, effervescent colours, Armarh’s figures are a playground for the artist to experiment with a breadth of mark making. The diversity of trace and touch across these works creates a dialogue between order and disorder, realism and expressionism, texture and flatness. This range of marks slow the viewing process down, with the audience rewarded with lovely abstracted moments of colour, form and gesture when taking time to process these works. The graphic nature of Armarh’s use of colour also brings to mind the digital, with the works taking on an almost Kusama-like quality with the adoption of these square blobs as his motif of choice. The colour combinations themselves are nuanced and complimentary, in some cases creating the visual effect of movement as the individual colours wrestle for the eyes’ attention. In doing so, the characters are brought to life in an almost theatrical manner.
The tension between Armarh’s colours and marks is also often echoed between the characters themselves - their identities obscured, and the scenes they inhabit animated. Armarh has an almost Shakespearean approach, exaggerating his figures postures and emphasising their movements to help place the viewers in these extracted scenes such as in Unsolicited Advice and Soiree Gossip. In other works such as Aunties Gaze, the figures simply function as vehicles for Armarh’s unrestricted abstract expressionism - a dance of colour and marks that lapses between figuration, abstraction and motif. Armarh’s Masquerade is a vivid, theatrical representation of a New York high society reimagined through a contemporary African lens - a body of work that feels opulent, exciting and aspirational.