Simon George Mpata

Tingatinga painting, 1969 - 1972

About the object

This Tingatinga picture depicts stylised birds, plant tendrils, a tree trunk with nest holes and insects. The birds are painted in rich shades of red, blue, black and white, contrasting with the light green background. The outlines have been carefully traced with black paint. The plumage has been elaborated in detail.
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Can you hear the call of the ostrich from the East African savannah? It proudly spreads its colourful tail feathers. It seems to be looking around to make sure that its appearance is getting all the attention it deserves. A little surprised, but interested, two long-beaked birds look out through the branches of a curved tree and observe the action. Likewise, three large flies are also startled. In spite of the two-dimensional, rather plain execution of the composition with little depth of field, it nevertheless depicts a sweeping dynamic through the curved long neck of the seemingly hovering bird (right) and the tree leaning towards the centre of the painting (left). The artist thus succeeds in creating a special compositional sense of space, which is enhanced by the monochrome pale-green background. The almost square, signed picture with a narrow, nailed-on frame was made by the Tanzanian artist, Simon George Mpata and is attributed to the so-called Tingatinga School. Eduardo Saidi Tingatinga (1932-1972) gave his name to this new contemporary East African art movement. His self-taught style of painting became a synonym for modern painting in Tanzania. At the age of twenty-three, Tingatinga left the poor, rural environment of southern Tanzania and moved to Dar es Salaam - centre of the British colony at that time - in search of a job. He managed to find work as a domestic servant in a colonial civil servant's home, and was entrusted with the job of painting the Englishman's house. Painting broad swathes in a single colour and the colours themselves became instrumental for the style of painting he would subsequently develop, as he commented at a later date. Tingatinga soon realised that colourful pictures from the Congo displayed in front of shops were in great demand for the white clientele. So he began to paint and developed his own expressive language of form. Mostly painted on squares of Masonite board, hence the name square paintings, the works characteristically depict animals as well as village scenes, ceremonies, fairy tales and legends. The narrative character of these colourful works, mostly executed with unthinned gloss paint, clearly emerges. The pictures often depict a story, a myth or an encounter with animals: "We know all these animals very well, in our homeland we encounter them at every turn", says Jaffary, one of Mpatas's artist-colleagues. In 1971, Simon George Mpata, one of Tingatinga's younger half-brothers, became his third student. Already by the end of the 1970s, his renown as an artist in Nairobi (Kenya) burgeoned. Mpata was involved with other students tutored by Tingatinga by founding the "Tingatinga Partnership", which became the "Tingatinga Arts Cooperative Society" in 1990. Mpata's contacts to collectors and gallery owners in Japan were promising, but he died in 1984 shortly before a trip to the country. To this day, paintings are being made in East Africa in keeping with Tingatinga's style, a thriving art tradition, the early phases of which are represented in the Freiburg collection in the form of several important paintings. Author: Andreas Volz, Translation: Timothy Connell

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