A Review of Daniel Taye’s exhibit
Daniel Taye’s Oil Baron, an exhibit of 25 paintings is on view at the Lela Art Gallery from September 15 through September 30, 2012.Daniel who is best known for his portraits and landscapes is admired by art lovers and fellow artists. The artist who a few years ago reportedly suffered bouts of depression, alcoholism and an inability to paint has been fighting against all his hurdles and working up right to the end. With the help of his girlfriend (whose beautiful portrait he has done for this year’s Art of Ethiopia) who is encouraging him to keep painting, Daniel is getting back his momentum and producing high technical standards like those he did before.
Daniel has the reputation for being meticulous in his drawing and for having an eye for people of all ranks. He has done portraits of women, the famous, the poor, and the old. In painting his friends and models, he can be perceptive and sympathetic, like the portrait of the noted writer and literary critic, Asfaw Damte that he did for Art of Ethiopia exhibition last year and another one this year. Asfaw happens to be an important person in the artist’s life with whom he has exchanged ideas and confidences. They have coffee hour twice a week for the past fourteen years, which has inspired him to do five portraits of him. “I guess Asfaw and I had a meeting of the minds,” Daniel said.
In the current exhibition, there’s a delightful sketch of two people possibly in a studio, one of them a nude woman, a man at the back her and a bull behind them. The nude woman in pinkish orange sits on lounge chair and her breast and ankle exposed, and her curving body, lit by means of black setting pulsing across the canvas.
A painting of grief-stricken person reveals the artist’s sympathy for justice. “The Disappointed man” – struck me, when I came upon it, as may be the most powerful works of the show. A worn-out man wearing a hat is sitting in cart and his heads despondently bowed and sloping shoulders. The effect is delicate and gentle,you feel the man in this painting is almost aloof, in a dreamy kind of way.
Another work has a subject who is a heroically solid woman looking out to sky. The entire landscape has been consumed by a rich pink with overtones and her body in pinkish orange seems to indicate her energy and her wings in white are visible beside her arms.
One of his paintings, Coffee and the News, features a condominium building that the artist has positioned as a coffee table. The city of Addis which has a huge a shortage of rental housing has been building low-income condominiums to solve the problem. However, the problem is such that the condos have become a middle class neighborhood that many poor people can’t afford. In Daniel’s painting, we see a shadow enveloped in black looking at the newspaper possibly to find an announcement of the result of the lot that would guarantee him the unusually narrow but privileged towers. It seemed a promise implausible for the moment for the subject and the artist who himself seem to have his own stake in the depiction.
Daniel was at his most playful in his self-portrait. He has painted himself looking older than he was. He mugged it up, with eyes in the penetrating gaze of a hypnotist. The painting is filled with reddish orange patterns overlaid with energetic sprays of yellowish orange paint and text above that reads: “Kejzet” (Nightmare) inscribed in inverse, which is the tile of the poetry book he published. The tormented self-portraits convey an admiration for Van Gogh, seemingly freed him to paint without respect for convention. But his penchant for excess often led him to paint too many images on a single canvas. The Three Painters, for example, features the works of three late celebrated Ethiopian artists Gebre Kristos Desta, Skunder Boghossian and Afewerk Tekle, a dark nude woman sitting on a carpet (Skunder’s work)with white head scarf, her back turned towards us.
The painting “window” presents a woman in white dress with headscarf looking outside in watchful posture. This weak style and a bit disappointing, this is the only painting I know that don’t look like Daninel’s.
The artist’s panoramic landscapes are also noted for their excellence. For this exhibition, he summons up pastures and sown fields with swift strokes of yellow and golden and dotting a ridge with grazing sheep. The vistas are resolutely ordinary.
Daniel is a unique colorist. While his figures are dominated by yellow and red, his warm colors often stand out from his default coolness. His atmospheres feature deliciously golden, pink, even though some of his works employ a dark palette and tend to be gloomy. The pieces in this exhibit differ slightly from his earlier works in that they do more with the properties of light and less on inversions of space.The better pieces, in my opinion, are the ones where the pigment is broadly applied and that have mythological and religious subjects that empowers the surface of the artwork with a physical and assured touch.
The Lela show is not a huge display, nor a comprehensive one. But it is a concentrated one and offer colorful interpretations of the artist’s thoughts and methodology.