In a recent interview on Project Inkblot, Ethiopian Zerihun Seyoum explains his artwork, life as a painter and inspiration.
I’m based in Addis Ababa, though my work could be based on any city. Though for me Addis is special because here you see the same traditional things happening that you would have seen 3000 years ago, and at the same time you see the modern, cosmopolitan lifestyle. You don’t even have to go very far to see tradition: it’s right outside your door, and normally you would go to see this kind of tradition in a festival, but living in Addis is like living in a festival every day.
I don’t exactly see a city as a cityscape. Cities have their own portraits, their own face, there are a lot of things going on, so I do not concentrate on a silent, still place. Rather, I choose vibrant, chaotic and dramatic places, which give you a kind of tension. I never have a silent experience.
And, like any person, I am influenced by my surroundings: their specific color, texture, lines. If you are living in a vibrant place, you get impressed by that, even subconsciously. You can see, for example, how in Diego Rivera’s work—he lived in Mexico—how his environment influenced him strongly and with such richness, and so it’s the same for me here. And so for me, maybe I see a similarity between artists who live in places that are somehow similar.
It’s like when you are young and you are learning a new alphabet, and so you use these letters you are taught as shapes to create meaningful words. When you are young, you first learn to write the actual letters and how to shape the letters. In a painting the shapes of the city are my letters. Over time you learn to create these letters, you build your vocabulary, and ultimately you become fluent about the city. And in fact you see that this language–the shapes of the city–is a universal language and can be the vocabulary of any city anywhere in the world.
For More on his work take a look at this interview.