Tesfaye Urgessa’s Poetic Canvases Invite Closeness and Compassion

With intimately intertwined figures rendered in smooth brushstrokes and muted hues, the first painting the Ethiopian artist made after moving back to Addis Ababa is a clarion call for human connection during a fractured, war-torn time.

Here, we ask an artist to frame the essential details behind one of their latest works.

Bio: Tesfaye Urgessa, 39, Addis Ababa (@tesfayeurgessa)

Title of work: Singing Redemption Song (2022). 

Where to see it: Saatchi Yates (35 NE 40th St, Miami) until Dec. 20.

Three words to describe it: Singing, redemption, song.

What was on your mind at the time: This is the first painting I made after moving back to Ethiopia. I found a country divided by the war and I wanted to make a statement, to find something that brings people together. I was listening to Redemption Song, wishing that people could come together in peace, unite, to sing like a choir, almost as a religious experience.

An interesting feature that’s not immediately noticeable: One day while I was painting this picture, my daughter had a fever with a very high temperature. On that day I decided to paint the central figure of the work, the couple’s son, with a bright red forehead. I wanted to incorporate an element from my own life on that day to the painting.

How it reflects your practice as a whole: I am a figurative painter. I love painting the human body. The composition is important to me but the central component of my work is always the figure. 

One song that captures its essence: Redemption Song by Bob Marley.

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