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ARTS: Mugalu’s romanticism on canvas

Serenityscapes as metaphor for self-freedom

Kampala, Uganda | DOMINIC MUWANGUZI | Whenever regular art gallery goers around Kampala are confronted with a striking painting of a beautiful waterscape, associations immediately connect it to Edison Mugalu. This impressionist artist’s name has become so synonymous with the subject that many cannot imagine him painting any other theme but waterscapes. His style of painting the waters, with that romantic flair and vibrancy, imbues his paintings with an unusual serenity that fascinates his audiences.

Mugalu’s flair, style, and emotions are on show in a new exhibition titled `Harmony in Lights’ at Umoja Art Gallery in Kampala.

Mugalu loves to play with colour effects on canvas. His canvases are often dominated with bright hues of yellows, blues, reds and oranges. He deploys them wantonly, with a sense of freedom that only self –taught artist appear to manage. Mugalu’s images are almost a departure to the arch-typical classroom picture construction type. He employs the naïve style of drawing to create evoke unique visual appreciation for the audience. Often times, because of such technique, his images do not appear still, but are viewed as if floating or crawling with life.

His earlier paintings, from the period of 2003-2007 are evidence of this characteristic. Paintings of fishermen at the lake with fishing canoes or a series on life at the beach pictures demonstrated such artistic freedom. The artist creates dreamy effects in the paintings by emphasising the extravagant use of bright hues. On the contrary, he generates a fusion of light and darkness on canvas to evoke shadowy images of human figures or settlements disappearing into the painting.

In recent times, he has maintained the dreamy flair in his art. However, some critics interpret it as a symbol of complacence or no growth for the artist who has spent the better part of his artistic career enjoying the label as one of the most selling artist on the Ugandan contemporary art scene.

Like is the norm in his paintings, his most recent exhibit, `Harmony in Lights’, highlights the aspect of harmonising colours to create a romantic feel on canvas. He concentrates on the theme of light effect on canvas- generally influenced by his earlier work on waterscapes. Additionally, the exhibit is a showcase of his progression not necessarily in style but in subject matter. The artist paints dark streets and veiled human figures much familiar to the coastal townships of Zanzibar. The streets are made of small corridors that meander into stony settlements. The human characters in the painting appear in shadowy form probably because of the thin light that penetrates the landscape they inhabit. Such composition stimulates nostalgic emotions to many a traveller who has visited the coastal city or similar sites. Mugalu injects them with his own style of naivety-drawing, thereby giving them a completely different identity; unique from that depicted in travel magazines or illustrations books.

Mugalu’s romanticism on canvas is evidence of an artist who has acquired masterly in what he’s doing. Such competence influences the market for his art. This is not only for reasons of his unique style, but for his consistence in subject matter. More so, when you critically look at Mugalu’s waterscapes, you’re quickly reminded of the artistic philosophy that is embedded in serenityscapes. They’re known for rekindling self-love and self-freedom. Mugalu’s waterscapes are evidently a metaphor to such introspection.

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Edison Mugalu’s Harmony in `Lights exhibit’ is showing at Umoja Art gallery located next to Prestige driving school, Kamwokya, Kampala

Images are courtesy of the artist.

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