Steve Maphoso

“What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us” – Helen Keller

The self-taught, Angolan-born artist, Steve Maphoso’s portraiture works can, in the most simplistic sense, be described as nothing more than decorative, aesthetically pleasing images. A much more complex reading of this artist’s creations, over his twelve year-long career could be better described as continuous conversation with the dark and light aspects of his own life. Maphoso’s acrylic and charcoal works are rooted in the capturing of emotions; this, Maphoso likens to weather and its ever changing nature. As seen in the cloud-like elements present in his works. 

Maphoso, focuses upon areas of the face, with the intention to emphasize various emotions captured within a glance, gaze or stare. The eyes are usually the target area of his focus when attempting to achieve this, while the abstracted elements are used to anchor each work in the particular moment. Hidden beneath this ever-present need to connect with emotion and utilize clouds to convey these emotions is the core reasoning behind this artist’s motive, which can be traced back to the loss of his mother during his youth. After losing his mother at an early age, Maphoso, lived with his step-mother, which was a less than ideal experience and situation for the young Maphoso. After the period of losing his mother, he would often find himself staring up into the sky as a means of communing and connecting with the mother he had lost. This is the conceptual reasoning behind the abstracted elements of his portraits which at times may appear as masses of clouds, smoke or even feathers. There is a sense of the intangibility of love, safety, security or even certainty which now becomes entangled to what was once an unassuming portrait.

By marrying faces which present an air of allure to them with the mystery of these unidentifiable areas, we as viewers are captured as well and momentarily arrested in scenes of bipolar uncertainty. As we, like Steve Maphoso, attempt to get grasp the intangible. For the artist, this intangibility is a yearning to find that which his mother once gave him, that which was lacking from his step mother and that which he is attempting to cultivate within the relationship he shares with his partner of five years. For us, as viewers, these pictorial arrangements found within his compositions present enough questions for these works to carry sufficient visual interest for them to peak our curiosity. This, however, is not merely because these pieces are attractive to behold, but because within their beautiful mark-making and appetising manipulation of artistic elements, there exists something which we all share. Perhaps, it is a longing for what once was, a wrestling with that which no longer is, or a striving for that which possibly could be. Steve Maphoso’s portraits are when it’s all said and done emotional snapshots of states of being we are all familiar with.                           

1990 -
Nationality: South African
Residence: Johannesburg
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