The Zebra Crossings Cafe at Ababa House along Addis Ababa Drive is very familiar ground to the painter Caleb Chisha having exhibited there several times in group shows. But next week, on Thursday 12 June; for the first time he goes it alone in what will be his first official solo exhibition.
Of course last year he did have an impromptu display of about 12 paintings – organised by a friend -- at a dance venue during an informal visit to Copenhagen, Denmark, but technically, this one counts as his first solo.
Entitled Childhood, Chisha is expected to take his viewers on a nostalgic journey into the playful innocence of childhood, a Zambian childhood, in which almost everything is a toy, from used tyres to seemingly risky catapults. A childhood that the artist – who turns 28 in a few weeks’ time -- experienced growing up in his hometown of Ndola on the Copperbelt Province.
|All good, 2014 (65cm 40cm) oil on canvas, by Caleb Chisha|
“My work is inspired by children’s lifestyle in the period that I grew up. I think this has changed nowadays you can’t even play with catapults its computers, things have changed” he says.
Known for the extreme photographic realism of his oil paintings, viewers should not expect too much of a shift but he does seem to be experimenting with a combination of vivid hues against monochromatic pictorial backdrops or vice versa to achieve a creative play into spatial illusion, accomplishing a three-dimensional effect in certain instances. But generally as for the mood of his usually warm colours viewers should expect a more subdued pallet. Furthermore, for the first time he will be showcasing some large format pencil drawings and one might add it is not easy to notice the difference in material and technique between the drawings and the paintings.
Actually, Chisha’s painterly skills fortify him as a prodigy, something that continues to be recognised by his peers, collectors and critics, he is considered by many, one of the finest painters in Zambia – past or present. Certainly he has proven his technical skill since emerging on the scene a few years ago, but it is time he started seriously applying a deeper imagination to his work, rather than to just paint beautifully. It is this that can surely set him apart, this is not to say he is not trying.
|Its my time, 2014, (70cm x 65cm) oil on canvas, by Caleb Chisha|
Perhaps this is the direction he is gradually taking with works such as All Good, a partially black and white painting of two boys raising their thumbs up. One shows his face with an elusive smile as he appears to emerge from the darkness of a picture frame while the other is a faceless child, wrapped almost like an Egyptian mummy in what is supposed to be the canvas of a painting.
All of Chisha’s works are captivating in nature, but a closer look at All Good is rewarded with the revelation of adequately referenced metaphor. The child with an elusive smile evokes shyness or someone with something to hide as is often the case with children who may suffer neglect or abuse and may have nobody to tell. Similarly the faceless child can also reference neglect, abuse or indeed the faceless street child. The two children in this painting are juxtaposed like friends in a photograph, again creating the reference of an imaginary friend that children of a certain age may be known to find psychological refuge in.
|Chew gum (60cm x 40cm) pencil on paper, by Caleb Chisha|
Nevertheless, as an artist he surely is maturing with constant practise. Apart from working on commissioned personal portraits for which he charges anything between K500 and K5, 000 depending on the material and size, he has also been busy facilitating drawing and painting workshops alongside Candice Rogoff of The Art Shop.
Since his Lusaka debut during the Black History Month at the Lusaka National Museum in 2010, he has consistently exhibited his work in several shows on the Lusaka art scene and last year won the people’s choice award during the Lusaka Centennial exhibition organised by Quentin Allen at Manda Hill Mall. He is also one of the artists from the Art Academy without Walls (AAWW) in the Lusaka Show grounds that worked with the German adventurer Andre Pilz on his Nala Project last year.