Ethiopian-born, Nairobi-based artist Fitsum believes in colour. Fitsum’s portraits are bold in colour and form.
Fitsum Berhe Woldelibanos says that although he was interested in art from an early age, he only undertook it seriously after graduating from the Asmara School of Arts in Eritrea in 2000, where he was enrolled in painting, sculpting, and print making.
His works are mainly portraits – of men and women – with influences based on “architecture and fabric patterns.” Another strong element, he says, is water – the constant motion of the sea, its cycles, and as “our horizontal point of reference.” For example, his strong use of colour stems from inspirations from nature, such as yellows from the Sahara desert: “color talks to me in three dimensional forms.”
It’s not merely the strength of colour that attracts the viewer’s eye to the intensity of his paintings, but it’s also the complementarity and contrast of tones to contour the face that prolongs the gaze. It’s the width and length of line, and the sharp angles that defines the span of the nose, the power of the chin, and the hollows of the cheeks.
The brush strokes are amazingly forceful and passionate, extreme and severe, yet also penetrating enough to convey emotion in his portraitures. This emotion is further enhanced in the depth and proportions of the eyes, and the fullness and moistness of the lips. Another aspect that is formidable is the musculature and erectness of the head, or the tilt downwards or sideways of the face, or the glance of the eyes. But the image is always about the colours.
Fitsum was born in Ethiopia. He moved to Eritrea where he completed his art studies at the Asmara School in 2000. Fitsum moved to Kenya in 2003 where he has been creating artwork that explores the relationship between man and his environment. His sizeable, intense portraits use a hypnotizing palette.
Zihan Kassam, art journalist, said of Fitsum’s art, ‘Applying generous strokes of bold acrylic colour, he forms the features and physiques of real and imagined subjects. Fitsum’s unique use of colour and contrast, light and shadow, work to emphasize the intensity of emotions and expressions, capturing the fervour of the human spirit and the intensity of our being.’
Photographs: Fitsum Berhe from his website http://fitsumberhe.com; artworks photographed by Frey & Mosby in Nairobi