Artist: Blessing Ngobeni
Gallery: Everard Read
Although Blessing Ngobeni has been exhibiting his artworks since 2007, his visibility in the contemporary art scene took effect in 2012 when he joined Gallery MoMo, which facilitated his participation in noteworthy local and international projects. Some of his early exhibition highlights are In His State of Madness (2014) and As If You Care (2015).
The Everard Read Gallery has accelerated Ngobeni’s local and international exhibitions noting his annual solo shows such as The Song of the Chicotte (2016), Masked Reality (2017), Enemy of Foe (2018) and A Note From Error (2018) at CIRCA Gallery and Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg, Cape Town and London. Ngobeni enjoys regular appearances at the FNB Joburg Art Fair and Investec Cape Town Art Fair. His work has been also featured at the EXPO Chicago (2017 and 2018) and PULSE Miami Beach (2018) in the United States.
Most importantly, Ngobeni is currently advancing his artistic trajectory, in particular expanding his range of creative mediums through producing free-standing and wall sculptures, video animations and live performances. These recent elaborations are bringing into effect substantive contents, clarity of articulations and dynamic expressions to Ngobeni’s art, as could be observed in his latest exhibition A Note From Error, which is twofold in character. On one level, this new project extends his political critique on the disconcerting manner in which the political elite is ruining democracy and giving rise to unbearable social injustices in post-colonial-apartheid South Africa. On another level, it enriches and complicates his aesthetic inquiry.
The new body of artworks that make up A Note From Error demonstrates Ngobeni’s ongoing search for creative approaches or innovative devices with which to take his art to another level. It features artworks that are indicative of his renowned visual signature, the combination of collage, drawing and painting techniques. These are his often large-scale artworks that are permeated by charged expressions of anxiety, frenzy and discontent all articulating divergent edifices of feeling about contemporary life in a troubled polity. Other artworks are in the form of video animations, a sound installation, wall and free-standing sculptures. There is also a live performance featuring accomplished jazz musicians. In this range of artworks, A Note From Error is an assertive exhibition whose socio-political contents, novel materials and innovative devices are a refreshing intervention that demonstrates Ngobeni’s weighty artistic quest, one whose orientation veers towards the realm of contemporary conceptual art.
Whether in paintings, sculptures or videos and performances, the potency of Ngobeni’s artworks resides in a visual approach intersecting politics and aesthetics, most notable in his bold, distorted figures that are twofold in expression. They appear human and animalistic simultaneously they are comic and mockery in character. It is unlikely not to observe and appreciate the charged surfaces, enchanting colours, decisive lines and evocative pictorial effects that give a rich life to Ngobeni’s multi-layered representational artworks. There is also the stitching together of images and texts whose appropriation from various sources and reconfiguration into signifying collage paintings are a discrepant interplay of soft and hard materials, still and motion pictures, silent and noisy objects.
Another fascinating element is their hybrid language which has visual references to artists such as Dumile Feni, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Norman Kathrine, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Evident in the collage paintings is also the artistic grammar of Surrealism, the rebellion of Dada and the symbolic force of Neo-Expressionism. The metal sculptures speak to Minimalism, especially their economic use of line and moreover stripping off the dense, multi- layered details found in his paintings. Treated in such creative register, these minimalistic sculptures reveal the structural essence and articulate utility of line, a visual assert over which a few artists have command in the sensible manner Ngobeni does. All of these afore-discussed qualities bestow textural meanings and aesthetic properties that thicken the depth and give effect to the nightmarish imagery and visual absurdity of Ngobeni’s assorted works of art. In these artworks, Ngobeni delivers not only a reductive visual commentary on the disconcerting state of contemporary life in democratic South Africa but he also offers moments of beauty, pleasure and appreciation of art objects.
Of note, towards concluding, is that Ngobeni is more than an artist focusing on his own evolving career. Besides his personal endeavour mentoring and counselling young artists, he initiated two official projects that support graduates who are at the transition between their tertiary art training and entry into the professional art scene. One is a collaborative award with Bag Factory called the ‘Blessing Ngobeni Studio Art Award’ established in 2017. Another is named ‘Initiative’ which introduces young artists into the art industry through a series of workshops and gives them the opportunity to participate in a group show. Such significant work is of a socialistic oriented artist, whose developmental vision is concerned with human empowerment. Put differently, such empowering work attests to the contribution Ngobeni is making to the art world in general and human society in particular. His is a contribution not limited to his art making and exhibition practice but extends to entrepreneurial inclinations that cannot be underestimated.