Maverick Life


Expressions of Joy: Visiting Lulama ‘Wolf’ Mlambo’s studio

Expressions of Joy: Visiting Lulama ‘Wolf’ Mlambo’s studio
Artworks for New York 1.54 by Lulama 'Wolf' Mlambo (Photograph: Supplied by the author)

Creating from expressions of joy across mediums, materials, and textures, artist Lulama ‘Wolf’ Mlambo is producing two bodies of work “Vigorous Improvisation” for 1:54 New York and “Dinner for 2” for  RMB Latitudes.

Up the stairs, 3rd floor, short passage and take a left. You should hear music or some banging, that’s the studio. I try to recall these instructions from the security guard as I make my way to visit Johannesburg-based visual artist Lulama ‘Wolf’ Mlambo’s studio.

There is a commotion at the end of the passage, the casual sounds of jazz are immediately overpowered by the distinctive sound of tin falling on concrete; this should be the right place.

Desk knocked over, paint oozing out of tin containers, brushes, canvas, bags of sand, balls of wool, needles, and books all over the floor.  Multiple works on different easels and walls, in different stages of composition and completion.

As I pan the room, one side is the wonder and chaos of an artist’s studio, whilst the other is a tranquil, gallery-like setting with artworks of different mediums up on walls painted in earthly tones signature of Mlambo.

Creating from expressions of joy across mediums, materials, and textures, Mlambo walks me through her creative process and development as she produces two bodies of work “Vigorous Improvisation” for 1:54 New York and “Dinner for 2” for  RMB Latitudes.

In ‘Vigorous Improvisation’, Mlambo turns to the classical theme of art and music through modern neo-expressionist lenses. In this singular body of work, Mlambo engages and expresses lyrical joy through tone, composition, and harmony.

“I was looking for simple things that bring you joy in so many ways. A lot of the work is placed on women in jazz, in joy, in dance – the femininity in how they place themselves in these environments. I’m trying to uncover that deeply bedded joy.

“The joy in jazz for me comes from a complicated combination of sound and colour. It is the improvisation, its heartbeat, trying to find something you wouldn’t necessarily know how to,” says Mlambo.

To translate this on canvas the artist breaks away from traditional depictions of art and music, notably those of impressionists such as Degas and his intimate portrayal of ballerinas performing.

The works start to feel and resemble movements, dancing in ways that don’t feel or look like gyrating. The subtlety and nuance of movement, intimacy and wholeness are seen through the curvature of figures caught in contortions and postures; they communicate love and relaxation, a nod to intentionality, the placement of the figures especially black bodies captured in movement (black girl joy).

Artwork by Lulama ‘Wolf’ Mlambo (Photograph: Supplied by the author)

Mlambo says:

“Where colour is concerned, I have stuck to the same rhythm. I used to isolate colour and not necessarily bring it together, now the blending of colours is starting to be something of interest to me.

“When you look closely at how I create the gradients, there’s a surety I have about that and now I have realized… I’ve learned how to solve certain colour problems and how to apply colour in different ways. Growth especially in how I apply paint and create texture”.

To achieve this, Mlambo creates distinct colours and mixes them with materials – this allows control over the artwork to evoke emotions through tone and composition. It echoes abstract-expressionist Rothko’s work and sentiments on colour as “communicating basic human emotion”.

Mlambo’s engagement with traditional artistic themes crosses over to the site-specific body of work exhibited at the RMB Latitudes Art Fair, where she approaches still life – through contemporary objects (dining tables, wine, decanters, glasses).

She explains: “When I started to draw, I couldn’t help but ponder on how empty the space is and needing to fill the silences. To create and produce work in solitary is like dining alone and that is not the experience I wanted with these works.

“The depiction of dinner for two serves as a powerful lens through which to explore nuances of human connection and shared experiences. The dinner table has been a recurring motif in my work, symbolizing themes of fellowship intimacy, and the complexities of human relationships.

“It evokes themes of intimacy and portrays a moment where objects interact as conduits of the atmosphere they live in.” DM

RMB Latitudes Art Fair is until 26 May 2024 in Johannesburg. You can buy your ticket here.


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