Kaleab Abate

Kaleab Abate was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he also currently lives and works. He graduated from Ale School of Fine Arts and Design, Addis Ababa, in 2021 with a focus on printmaking.

Employing various printmaking techniques, different materials, charcoal drawing, and others, allows him to experiment with different layers in his works on paper and canvas. Beginning with a portrait in which he focuses on emotions and expression rather than the likeness of his subject, he then allows the material and printmaking patterns to guide his compositions intuitively. He allows bodily shapes to fragment and deforms into layers, some rich, others delicate, half-transparent or patterned, adding his distinct surreal twist. Abate’s layering technique becomes a process to imagine and visualize the complex depths of the stories that may or may not live within the bodies he depicts:

“My composition is loaded with unexpected forms and textures. The majority of the things in my works are unrealistic. Figures are distorted, shapes are erratic, and color options are limited. The vast majority of events are unreal. This daring fantasy has piqued my interest. My creations, however, have a considerable amount of realism. That is why I regard my works as fantasized realities.”

The majority of my studio practice is spent experimenting. The first thing I want to do when am working on a particular piece is to transfer texture or an image straight onto the surface I'm working on.  And there is no other media that allows me to attempt new things in the studio every day like print. For me, printmaking is a process of contemplation rather than production. I am inspired by everything around me, thus the best approach for me to bring those elements to life is to immediately transfer them into what I am attempting to replicate. My compositions are mostly completed with silkscreen printing. The principle of stenciling to transfer a texture onto my surface is the most crucial aspect of my studio practice. I'm constantly seeking for textures to use in my compositions. I sometimes bring genuine material to acquire the precise shape and texture of the object. After that, I begin altering the texture I've obtained in order to balance it with the figures I've previously produced. This is why I consider my experiments to be reflections since I am already inspired by something that is already out there. The question I ask is how can I make this element mine in order for me to feel like I replicated something that already has value and balance. Am attempting to enhance my inspirations with my own value. That, in my opinion, adds something to my conception of what life is in an artistic way. And rolling, rubbing, or spraying with a silkscreen print is my way of doing that. Imitating nature or my surroundings is not what art is about for me. But of course, I could only draw inspiration from my immediate environment. Printmaking enables me to transform anything nearby into something I can claim as my own.

His figures are sculpturesque, seem immobile and monumental, bearing notions of urgency and holding a strong, majestic presence that does not easily elude the viewers’ eye. The elongated and deformed figures placed into a ‘fantasized reality’ allude to the present history and way of life of young Africans – a reflection of how young Africans are enslaved by systematic uncertainty in form of politics, social systems, economic crises, miseducation, and past and present historical ambiguities.

Works in the collection