Ethiopian artist Fikru lays bare his emotions on canvasThu, 01 Feb 2024 13:15:56 GMT

With an exuberant flourish, Ethiopian artist Fikru Gebremariam slaps bold streaks of paint across the large canvas propped up against a wall in his Addis Ababa studio.The acclaimed 50-year-old painter — whose art hangs in galleries and collections across the world — explains how he honed his now vibrant, abstract style.”My job to just take care of what my feeling is, what my subconscious drive is, just to let my emotions on the canvas.”Around 30 of Fikru’s pieces will be on public display throughout February at an exhibition hosted by the Alliance Ethio-Francaise, a cultural hub in Addis Ababa. Most of those on show are large canvases — some more than 2.5 metres (over eight feet) wide, a riot of colour and energy.In his studio, Fikru preciously guards a drawing he produced as an 11-year-old boy when his parents enrolled him at the Addis Ababa School of Fine Arts. At the age of 13, he won an award at a prestigious international children’s painting exhibition in Beijing.After studying in Addis, Fikru travelled to several countries including the United States and the artists’ magnet Paris before returning to his homeland in 2012.- ‘Connection’ with homeland -“It’s the connection I have, not only with the country, with the weather, with the culture, with the people and everything. So, for creativity, I thought… I have to be in Ethiopia,” he told AFP.Now hundreds of artworks, some laid out on the floor, bear witness to the decades of Fikru’s artistic evolution from figurative to abstract expressionist painter.Alliance Ethio-Francaise director Mohamed Beldjoudi says Fikru’s “comings and goings enabled him to draw inspiration from everything there… it gave him his expression, which is rather unique”.”It is contemporary art, but one can also detect some symbols… used in Ethiopian painting.”In his studio, Fikru daubs bold ochre, beige and black strokes on the canvas, already an abstract concoction of colours.He then lays it on the floor, sprinkling on a mixture of turpentine and linseed oil, diluting the paint as it spreads.In a sign of how his style has evolved, old canvases in earthen hues feature women’s faces resembling African masks. Over time they have been slowly submerged in an abstract explosion of colour.- ‘Journey between me and colour’ -At the fine arts academy where Fikru first studied, he says they teach how to draw figures and paint figurative forms, focusing on the academic.”And then the question is, to be an artist, is that enough? Is that what you want… drawing a figure? Does that mean who you are as an artist?” He said he stuck with the school’s influence for almost 15 years but slowly tired of its style and began “destroying”, “destabilising” the figures.”It’s very important… for me to just do it in my way, not in a school way.”The ebullient artist says that when he starts a painting, he has no idea what it will become. It could take “an hour or a year” to finish, or be abandoned and taken up again months later.”It’s a kind of journey between me and the colours,” he said.”It’s not me who knows when it’s finished. This is the painting,” he says. “There’s a certain point, a breaking point, when I cannot add anything.” Fikru says he does not want to be categorised.”Yes, I’m born in Ethiopia, I’m an artist, but I’ve been everywhere in the world. So, the name Ethiopian artist, African artist, European artist, it’s just a kind of label.”