Addis Gezehagn is known for his labour-intensive assemblage practice. It takes the artist many months to finalise each work. Methodically layering cut-outs from locally sourced magazines and newspapers onto his canvases, the artist then applies acrylic paint to create his signature cityscapes. His canvases possess a kaleidoscopic quality, every centimetre of each painting different from the last. The effect is a dizzying landscape of colour variations and unique textures, created by the intentional cracking of the collage beneath.
From his Addis Ababa studio, Gezehagn reimagines the city he inhabits. The artist’s Floating City series details the topography of the Ethiopian capital’s cityscape, as if seen from a bird’s eye perspective. Gezehagn uses abstraction to create the illusion of three-dimensional sculptural space, and vertiginous views of urban centres yield to indistinguishable medlies of rooftops and window panes. Doorways now occupy the tops of homes, and entire buildings have been repositioned and deconstructed, reduced to ambiguous cubic forms. On closer inspection, more recognizable objects from the urban landscape begin to reveal themselves. A clothing line draped with laundry floats adrift, while corrugated iron roofs litter the canvas at sporadic intervals.
There is a tension that permeates Gezehagn’s work, as the artist subtly hints at the social consequences of the incessant desire to urbanise. While impoverished communities in Addis Ababa once lived in ground-level shacks, they are now being uprooted to reside in newly built highrise buildings. The organic interactions and social relations facilitated by their previous way of living have been replaced by a sense of impersonality, imposed by the coldness of these new dwellings. Gezehagn’s paintings are more than just a snapshot of the city – rather, they stand as a visual archive of what will soon be lost to the relentless pursuit of modernity.