Tadesse Mesfin in his Addis Ababa studo


A PROMINENT FIGURE in Ethiopian Modernism, Tadesse Mesfin thrives on two creative fronts: making paintings and training the next generation of artists.

Women are the protagonists in Mesfin’s ongoing series “Pillars of Life.” The paintings pay homage to the many women who work as smallholder vendors in Ethiopian markets. Rendered in muted colors and cast against abstracted backgrounds, the women have a poetic presence. Bringing attention to what might appear to be uniform ubiquity, the paintings celebrate the diversity of his subjects and their vital role in the community.

Addis Fine Art in Addis Ababa is currently showcasing “Pillars of Life.” The online viewing room exhibition is scheduled for May 22-June 2, 2020.

Mesfin has an eclectic background. He earned an undergraduate degree from the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design at Addis Ababa University (1972), worked for the Ethiopia’s National Theatre designing sets and costumes (1973-77), and later earned an MFA in Russia, where he studied painting at the Repin St. Petersburg Academy Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in St. Petersburg. Then he became a professor at his alma mater, the Alle School of Fine Arts and Design.


SOLD | TADESSE MESFIN, “Expectations II,” From Pillars of Life series, 2020 (oil on canvas, 146 x 114 cm). | © Tadesse Mesfin, Courtesy Addis Fine Art


For about 35 years, Mesfin has been training young artists at the Alle School. He’s taught drawing, painting, and composition. Lately, he’s been helping students focus and find their paths.

“Now I am teaching mostly conceptual drawing,” the artist says in the video below. “Here you teach students to find themselves, to concentrate on their area of interest, so the student before leaving art school is going to be himself, is going to find himself.”

Mesfin’s instructional legacy is reflected on the roster of Addis Fine Art. The gallery represents the veteran practitioner and several of his former students. At recent art fairs the gallery has showcased their works together.

In March 2019, Addis Fine Art installed a two-artist show at Art Dubai with Mesfin and Addis Gezehagn, a former student he taught at the Alle School.

Last October, the gallery presented Mesfin’s work at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London. The gallery featured his paintings alongside works by Ermias Kifleyesus and Merikokeb Berhanu, who are also former students.

Then a couple of months ago, came another exhibition connecting Mesfin to a new wave of Ethiopian artists. Addis Fine Art presented a selection of five artists during Art Dubai in late March. This year, the art fair was online only due to COVID-19. The group included Mesfin and Tesfaye Urgessa and Tizta Berhanu, two more artists who studied under him. There are many many more.

The process Mesfin advises his students to undertake—finding themselves and understanding their true interests—is an exercise he’s mastered in his own practice. When he is not in the classroom, he’s in the studio.

“If I don’t work. I get sick. Everyday I come to my studio,” Mesfin says. “It’s like life for me to make paintings. I love making paintings.” CT


In his studio, artist Tadesse Mesfin discusses his practice and his teaching career. | Video by Addis Fine Art


£ 25,000 | TADESSE MESFIN, “Grace III,” From Pillars of Life series, 2020 (oil on canvas, 130 x 97 cm). | © Tadesse Mesfin, Courtesy Addis Fine Art


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