Mezgebu Tessema

One of the major stylistic trends – indicating the reality and complexity of the country – flourishing in Addis these days is an art symbolic in nature and realistic in its approach. One of the most important artists most easily identified with this trend is Mezgebu Tessema. His works are singularly original and unprecedented. His subject matter came from contemporary Ethiopia. It is none other than an imitation of Ethiopian reality or nature – an ideal, and a beautiful copy of nature, as a large section of our contemporary urban society thinks of what art is, its creative nature and beauty. His early works in the late 70s while he was still a student, and later an instructor, in the Addis Ababa school of Fine Arts, were marked by persistent experimentation. He painted and did linoleum engraving of portraits, still-lives as well as several pencil drawings and oil painting of genre pieces that treat scenes of everyday life. His drawings and linoleum engravings were more in search of a topological perspective, on the problem and proportion of the human anatomy. His paintings during this period are noted for their rich, warm tones, such as ocher reds and purples, and the harmonious effect he achieved through his masterful blending of these colors. The effect and contrast of light was so intense that his friends used to refer to the feeling of the heat in his diploma work as Nedad which reflected the sweat of the very dark skinned farmer, the main character at the center of the composition. Despite the romantic and sentimental emphasis inherent in this painting, it exhibited a close attention to detail, which reflects a concern for pictorial realism instilled in him from the beginning.

Excerpted from Esseye Medhin, 2001