The Octopus’s Veil

Michael Armitage (1984 - )

Oil on Lubugo bark cloth


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© Michael Armitage

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  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Art Collection
    A strange hybrid between the sprawling tentacles of a vivid red octopus and the branches of a palm tree dominate Michael Armitage’s painting ‘The Octopus’s Veil’. Inspired by memories of his time spent on the East Coast of Kenya, his work visually captures a distinctive sound he heard every morning – fishermen purifying octopus by beating them to remove their ink.

    Mesmerised by the rhythmic sound and the ruthless acts of the fishermen, Armitage invents a fantastical scene of an octopus whose elongated tentacles emerging from the sea are disguised as the branches of the doum palm tree. Hidden behind the tree, the octopus waits to entrap the approaching fishing boat and exact its revenge. Often featured in his paintings, the tree is a motif that Armitage closely associates with Kenya, a form that anchors his work to the emotive resonance of home.

    Armitage’s signature medium is oil on Lubugo bark cloth, a material harvested and prepared from trees in Uganda that is used to make a fabric for ceremonial garments. Its natural textures literally interweave with Armitage’s depictions of contemporary life, personal memories and allusions to regional mythology and symbolism.

    By drawing upon a complex historical dialectic between Western and non-Western cultural traditions and merging formal European art historical styles with East African subjects and materials, Armitage’s work challenges the tired exoticisation of the ‘other’. ‘The Octopus’s Veil’ brings an additional cultural reference through the artist’s handling of the transformation between tentacles and tree, a stylistic allusion to the historical tradition of Japanese 'Ukiyo-e' woodblock prints.
  • About the artist
    Michael Armitage received his BA in Fine Art from the Slade School of Fine Art (2003 – 07) and has a Postgraduate Diploma from the Royal Academy Schools (2007 – 10). Solo exhibitions include Peace Coma, Turner Contemporary, Margate (2017); and MATRIX 263, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, San Francisco, USA (2016). He is based between London and Nairobi.
  • Explore
    Materials & Techniques
    oil, oil painting, Lubugo bark cloth
  • Details
    The Octopus’s Veil
    Oil on Lubugo bark cloth
    height: 220 cm, width: 170 cm
    Purchased from White Cube, March 2018
    White Cube; purchased by GAC 2018
    GAC number