“I’m a optimist and I believe in world peace; thus my works are maps to a better tomorrow.”
So says painter and printmaker Mongezi Ncaphayi. His metaphysical comment is a response to his recent showing at the sixth London edition of 1:54, the Contemporary African Art Fair. It’s the second showcase at the grand Somerset House location for Ncaphayi, and his cartographic reference to his latest work matches a biographical trajectory in which a highly notable level of creative output reflects the far-reaching impact of the specifically non-figurative and ultimately abstract pieces he produces.
Born in 1983 in Benoni, South Africa, Ncaphayi has dexterously notched up a striking portfolio of achievements that include (amongst many others) the Absa L’atelier Gerard Sekoto Award (South Africa), Ampersand Foundation Fellowship (New York), two solo exhibitions with SMAC (his South African gallerists), a series of group exhibitions in Amsterdam, France, and Portugal, as well as important collections housed at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, the Luciano Benetton Foundation in Italy, and the Tiroche DeLeon Collection in Gibraltar.
Of the 19 or so selected works for his 1:54 showcase, he presents a beautifully cadenced palette of colours and forms – almost like soothing mood boards – that range from translucent blues, pale greys, and golden hued yellows, to oceanic scapes that are profoundly scenic.
It was inspired by my hope to see the world transform into a more tolerant, loving place for all.
“Organic,” “environmental,” and “lyrical” were some of the audible reactions to his pieces at 1-54; all of which the artist is happy to accept. “I’d go along with these as they are somehow what I’m mostly interested in and striving for in my work,” he says. It’s perhaps Ncaphayi’s five-piece Metamorphosen sequel (prominently displayed at the art fair) that has a particular resonance with who he is as an artist. “I produced the series just a month before the fair,” he explains. “It was inspired by my hope to see the world transform into a more tolerant, loving place for all.”
Once again echoing his self-expressed optimism, his familiar motif of Indian ink, watercolour, and acrylic on cotton paper in this particular deeper-toned cinque exposes a background in music that plays out in his work. As a saxophonist, the overall symphonic quality of his pieces and the semblance of movement emanate from the balance between the ecological-style of his deep-sea accents, and the interspersed linear dashes or subtle splashes of red that add a continual sense of animated harmony.
To me, his chosen colour palettes and rhythm seem reminiscent of the syncopated literary style of Toni Morrison in her 1992 novel, Jazz, in which 1920s Harlem was placed firmly in the spotlight. More accurate is the fact that the dominant colour choice for Ncaphayi reflects his fondness for melancholic melodies and tunes – despite his natural character.
“I’m always a happy person,” he states, “but there’s something about the blues that gets me going. I guess it’s because I like to get into deep feelings about things. It’s my way of getting to understand the world around me.” Creatively, his painting dominates his music, although he does use lyrical elevation as a meditative tool for progression. Name checking a delightful selection of past and present icons, from Charles Lloyd, Bheki Mseleku, and Dwight Trimble to Mark Rothko, Charlene Von Heyl, and Kimsooja as inspirations, the fusion of “still and tangible” art and “fleeting non-tangible” music helps Ncaphayi to look at both art forms as one.
“A piece of music is somewhat a map of its own,” he says, adding, “It takes you from one point to another and, within that, there’s a whole lot of other interesting points you get to, in order to reach the final destination. This is the same with my works. When playing music and listening to myself, I experience certain feelings that I put down in terms of shape, line and structure.”
An article by Nana Ocran
Featured image : Mongezi Ncaphayi, Devotion, 2018, Indian Ink, Watercolour & Acrylic on Cotton Paper, 140 x 100cm
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