By Andrew Mulenga
Awe aya ama painting tayaweme, naine kuti na pentapo bwino, (these are not nice paintings, even I can paint better), were the remarks of a staff member at Ababa House’s Pizzaz restaurant during the opening of Laura Chimowitz’s on-going exhibition of about 30 paintings in Lusaka last week.
|Woman with a glass, (oil) by Laura Chimowitz|
But anyway, as far as opinion and preferences go, ‘to each his own’ as the saying goes. Chimowitz’s paintings are an expression of feeling rather than an actual visual record, and this is what makes her work thrilling.
The work reflects a frivolous state of mind, influences of expressionism, fauvism and her Cape Town heritage can be detected in her poetic form of painting.
Just looking at the work, one can tell that whoever did it must have been enjoying herself
“Painting just gives me joy, an indescribable joy. It gives me happiness and fulfilment, when I look at my paintings and study them; they give me such great happiness and fulfilment. But when I’m even able to sell, that’s just a bonus”, said Chimowitz speaking from the Kabulonga residence she shares with her husband, Roger McKay, a retired pilot, who was responsible for the rescue and airlifting of the Ethiopian Royal family to safety in neighbouring Kenya during the revolt in the early 1970s.
|Northmead Market, (oil) by Laura Chimowitz|
Chimowitz’s work has not changed much over the years, she still paints marketplace scenes on site, and still uses women, especially Bridget, her house servant’s wife as sitting models for her paintings.
“I just love painting market scenes. I’m always at Malata market, the people there even know me and they are not bothered when I arrive there with my easel and canvas. Of course they do ask for a little payment but it’s not much” said the 63-year-old, smiling happily.
“But my favourite subject is Bridget, she is my helper, Josephat’s wife, look at her isn’t she the most beautiful woman you have ever seen. But sometimes I hire other models and paint them too, and yes of course I have to pay them as well”.
Bridget is the subject of quite a number of Chimowitz’s paintings, such as Woman in Hat and Woman with a Glass. The painter says Bridget is in fact her muse, and that if she (Chimowitz) ever became famous, she would like Bridget to be famous too, drawing comparison to Spanish surrealist painter Salvor Dali, who used his long-time partner and wife Gala who was the inspiration in many of his paintings.
Chimowitz is an academically trained artist who studied at Rhodes University in South Africa.
|Two Women (oil)|
“I studied at Rhodes and enjoyed myself so much, but I did not finish the course, I ran off and got married. I also studied at the University of Zambia, but then I got bored. Anyway I quit UNZA because I didn’t want to become a teacher after graduating; the course was in education”.
Judging from her tendency to drop out of university, one might assume she has the habit of not finishing what she starts and this just might be reflective in her paintings. Most of them appear unfinished, and although she insists that they are.
And walking through her on-going exhibition, one gets the feeling that the work is under-priced for an artist of her talent, standing and experience.
“I don’t like overpricing my work. Its funny the people who actually buy my work are not even wealthy people. They don’t have money and they always haggle for a lower figure, but I’m flexible, I don’t mind”
Nevertheless, Chimowitz’s paintings are always a delight to look at and she appears to have developed a technique of her own. Although she paints with oils, she thins them down with turpentine, making the paint very thin that one could easily mistake them for watercolours.Chimowitz remains a charming component in Zambia’s visual arts landscape and we can only wish she continues being inspired to do what she enjoys most.