27 July 2011

Zimbabwe: Local Artist Lieros Weaves Magic At Gallery Delta

THE art world abounds with celebrities, but it is often the rock stars among the artists who catch our attention and achieve notoriety in addition to fame. Lucian Freud, the renowned British artist who died this month aged 88, was described as a rake and a gambler.

Although reputed to be one of the world's greatest figurative artists, his portraiture was uncompromising: one critic thought he should have been thrown into the Tower of London for the unattractive portrait he painted in 2001 of Queen Elizabeth II.

Another rock star is Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist and political activist with involvements in architecture, curating and film. In spite of his fascination with blackjack card games acquired while studying art at Parsons School of Design in New York, his extraordinary artistic achievements include the design of The Bird's Nest stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

At the Tate Modern in London in 2010, Wei wei's installation of one hundred million hand painted porcelain "seeds", scattered in piles on the gallery floor, was entitled Sunflower Seeds. As visitors walked across or rolled in the seeds, they were encouraged to contemplate mass consumption, industry and famine.

Among Zimbabwe's celebrities is artist Helen Lieros, who recently curated the exhibition Still Life/Objects, currently on display at Gallery Delta in Robert Paul's Old House. While her husband Derek Huggins was in Munich, curating the highly successful Colour Africa 2011, Lieros was weaving her own magic at home.

A call for contributions on the chosen theme resulted in an exciting display of paintings, graphics and multimedia sculptures from several leading local artists.

Mid-career artist Shepherd Mahufe, after a brief interlude of farming in the Goromonzi area, has returned to his easel and paintbrushes with renewed vitality and inspiration. In the Room, a restful oil on canvas painting in muted pinks, turquoise and honey yellow, focuses on a well-worn upright chair, hung about with a loop of fresh fish from Lake Chivero, and some eco-friendly canvas shopping bags. A keen sportsman, Mahufe has played rugby for his country and his action paintings of rugby scenes have been popular with fans locally and abroad. Working with the disadvantaged is another of Mahufe's passions.

Many visitors to this exhibition will be impressed by the extraordinary organic style wooden tables crafted by Lionel aka "Spud" Murphy. Better known as a filmmaker, Spud graduated from the Johannesburg College of Art in the mid-70s, with a degree in industrial design.

Required at the time to repay student loans, he went into advertising and filmmaking: Times have changed, and he is now concentrating on three-dimensional products, involving engineering and aesthetic design.

Worked mostly in pale woods such as jacaranda and rosewood, Spud's tables are created without a single nail. For Murphy, tables have a particular significance - they "represent families being together", the place where we sit down to eat, or to work.

Objects chosen by Lieros from Dendera Gallery at Doon Estate hang side by side with art works. Nigerian Fish and Brown Baule Fish, wooden carvings, respond to and echo the lines of Masimba Hwati's wood/oxide and sisal Two Fish, Five Loaves and Monkey Fruit, while Gareth Nyandoro's Roora, a mixed media picture of a young woman created from small painted blocks of wood, relates strikingly to the carved Ashanti Mother Figure from Ghana.

This exhibition is a real cracker, and if Helen Lieros is able to alternate her painting schedule with curating, art lovers have much to look forward to.

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