I missed this item last year, but I’m quite happy to circle back and feature some truly beautiful artwork the celebrates Miles Davis and Kind of Blue.
Back in August, Sam Nhlengethwa paid homage to Miles Davis in a solo exhibition of new drawings, prints and paintings at the Goodman Gallery in Johannesburg.
With its experimental modal sketches, the Kind of Blue’s initial and ultimately enduring success came as a surprise to Davis and his sextet, which consisted of pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Paul Chambers, and saxophonists John Coltrane and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley. “Evans is quoted as saying when they did the album, they had no idea it would become so important,” explains Nhlengethwa. “As a painter, I drew a parallel to that – when I make a new painting I never know how important it will be.”
The universal nature of the album, its maverick edge and the significance of its 50th anniversary prompted Nhlengethwa to devote his entire upcoming solo show to Kind of Blue; the exhibition adopting the album’s title as its namesake. Featuring a series of etchings and lithographs produced at Mark Attwood’s Artists’ Press studio in White River as well as mixed media collage drawings and paintings all the size of vinyl record covers; Nhlengethwa’s new works are stark, mostly monochromatic and affectingly vivid, echoing the emotion of Davis’s melody. Black and white rendered silhouette figures recall another era, an age when taking risks was central to cultural development.
The show consisted of over 30 mainly small scale works, as Nhlengethwa wanted “the show to breathe, I don’t want it to be too cluttered”. The gallery space was infused with the modal sketches of Kind of Blue, as the album played on a loop for the duration of the show. This pensive, musing show will be the last of Nhlengethwa’s to focus on the theme of jazz, something he has dealt with for decades. Presenting a distinctive series, which is at times somber and at times celebratory, Nhlengethwa’s Kind of Blue maintains a sophisticated character suited to the thematic closure he is pursuing.
Nhlengethwa has had several solo shows in South Africa and abroad and has been a resident of the Bag Factory Artists’ Studios in Newtown, Johannesburg since the 1990s where, he says, “a week never passes without me listening to Kind of Blue”.
A great way to view the Sam Nhlengethwa: Kind of Blue exhibition of drawings, prints and paintings is on the Goodman Gallery website.
© Sam Nhlengethwa