ZAM Reporter

Until 28 October, Amsterdam | Figures by Neo Matloga

The award-winning South African artist has taken a new path with a dominance of painterly gestures over collage elements. It represents the yielding to ‘a steadily intensifying urge.’

In this series of intimately scaled paintings, created in his Amsterdam studio, Matloga delves deeper into his connection with the fictional figures he portrays. He writes:

I have developed a growing curiosity towards the characters I have assembled in my collages over the years. In my pursuit of comprehending their essence, I have found that at this moment painting is the most effective means for me. Recently, my focus has been on exploring the formal elements of my practice, causing me to move away from creating socially confirmed situations and instead tap deeper into the act of painting and its significance. I have drawn inspiration from both formal instruction – including techniques such as alla prima, chiaroscuro, perspective and trompe l'oeil – and informal learning, such as memories of watching my mother paint the floor and walls in the household, especially how she intuitively moved her hands.

Departing from his previous mode, where theatrical compositions heightened by dramatic tension were at the fore, Matloga now positions himself as if he were painting live sitters. He actively speculates on the possible interplay of gazes and the physical demands of stillness.

Although I rely on reference materials, I let my imagination guide me during the painting process, sometimes not even recognising the subject on the canvas. The mystery of who I am painting adds to the surprise, leaving me to wonder whether they are individuals I may have encountered in a past life.

The contemplative portraits in Figures lend prescience to Azu Nwagbogu’s commentary on Matloga’s work, penned at the time of Matloga’s solo exhibition along came your eyes at the Hermitage Amsterdam in 2022:

As the artist in Matloga matures, so do his subjects and their embodiment as characters. He takes them out into the contested territory of public space – a perilous journey for Black bodies. But these richly complex characters are free, and they own their space.

In 2019, Neo Matloga won the Koninklijke Prijs voor de Vrije Schilderkunst. In 2019 he was nominated for the Volkskrant Beeldende Kunstprijs. In 2021 he was warded the 10th ABN AMRO Kunstprijs.

More information here.

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