Khehla Chepape Makgato Pop-Up Show at Harris Stanton, Cleveland
Loose canvas sits heavy on the gallery walls with thick, dripping paint and geometric printed fabrics forming wrapped heads and caped shoulders out of the jumbles of colorful strokes. But what makes Khehla Chepape Makgato’s raw, swirling, energetic paintings truly portraits are their unmistakably piercing stares.
Walking into Harris Stanton’s great little space on W 9th St. in Cleveland, I was surprised to find paintings on the wall. The fabric was the only printed elements in the work on display, even though Chepape is an artist in residence at Zygote this Spring. But the big blocks of punchy color, and some of my favorite moments, sharp profile lines of ears and sides of faces in particular are informed by printmaking logic, and the layered matrix structure of working in print.
The most striking work, Self Portrait II, lingers in my mind’s eye not only because of the artist’s larger than life gaze back at the viewer, but the stark, sharp outline of his head in swirls of blue and red and mauve and moss against pure, flat black, as solid as a block print. Other facial features begin to emerge and then are consumed by the chaos of brushstrokes, except for the simple but insistent black and white eyes.
Self-portraits are rare, however; most of Chepape’s portraiture is of powerful African females. Mphimphi twists her mouth in anger, looking out at the viewer through mod, Hepburn-esque sunglasses. Her blue skin and lime sky overpower her beautiful, geometric dress and headdress. Queen Namdi: Mother of Shaka stares out from a celebration of colors and patterns and rich textures. The collage here layers enough to suggest history and a multifaceted identity.
Afrilady almost gets lost in her storm of fabrics, and the bulk of the action swirls around her instead of inside her like the other portraits. Yet the way the four different fabrics are layered in her headdress and draped elegantly off the canvas suggest a regal woman, and transform her more passive countenance into a that of a thoughtful witness.
Powerful pieces line the opposite wall as well. Deep in My Soul grabs the viewer with a bright golden yellow that nearly swallows the subject. And Self Portrait I stares out with a heartbreaking earnestness, wondering if the viewer can possibly know, is capable of connecting to the larger sentiment here. Beautiful moments happen at the interaction of rich, royal blue, a bright cherry blood red, and a muddy, earthy brown. A hint of a fabric collar rides up into the frame just enough to ground the artist’s closely cropped face.
A painter and a printmaker, art is just one pillar of Chepape’s work. He studied Journalism at Boston Media House and reviews art for ART AFRICA and for SABC radio’s Thobela FM. He’s also taught and mentored youth in the arts, including founding Samanthole Creative Projects and Workshop to encourage kids from the Limpopo province of South Africa to read poetry and literature, and develop artistic skills. He’s a patron of the Khehla Chepape Makgato Reading Centre in Lebowakgomo. Zygote mentions his long-term goal is to develop a sustainable arts education center to cater to rural youth.
The Pop Up Show runs through April 19th, so make sure to see it soon! Harris Stanton Gallery is located at 1370 W 9th St. in Cleveland, and is open Tues – Fri 11-6, and Sat 11-4.