ART S/Peak of the WEEK 3

ART S/Peak of the WEEK 3

Sam and Nelson, an icon and songs

10/09/2021     Live Auctions, Weekly with Percy

There are two lots centred around music in our Modern & Contemporary Art Auction taking place in Cape Town on 29 and 30 September 2021. Together, they make up our Art S/Peak of the Week

I’ve chosen them in part, because they shore up the power of music as a force for minting icons, and as a space of shared solace. The two works are also special because they bring together two generations of contemporary South African artists, Sam Nhlengethwa and  Nelson Makamo.

The Nhlengethwa piece is a collage and oil painting on canvas titled Playing African Blues. It’s a portrait of the Nigerian born father of Afro-beat music, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. Nhlengethwa gives us a Fela who is not his idiosyncratic animated verve. The iconic iconoclast is pensive and focussed. His hands are on the keys of a Fender Rhodes piano. Dressed in a white jumpsuit with a saxophone strap hanging around his neck. The coffee skin rings warm against the blue-black light of the stage. The whiteness of his clothes gives Fela a sacred aura. Like a rebellious saint of the subaltern, or those Afro-American poet amiri Baraka called, blues people.

The second piece is a delicate portrayal of two young friends locked in an embrace. They each wear a pair of headphones. Their eyes are tightly closed as they are sent into a tender moment of emotional ecstasy by the music we imagine them listening to. 

The work is titled Allure. It’s a mixed media watercolour drawing rendered in strong gestural lines and strokes. It’s a technique that allows Makamo to be as brief as a poet, as graceful as a musical soloist.

A considered slow engagement with the drawing reveals just how much work went into archiving what on face value looks like a rushed and hurried execution of the final artwork. The are accents of blues that mingle with brown and oranges. The metallic sheen of gold enamel spray paint used for the headphones would normally jump out conspicuously. In this concert of colours it sits harmoniously into the composition. Just like in jazz improvisation, there are no wrong notes, the note you make is made viable by the next one the artist plays.