Thabiso Phokompe

New York Times, Weekend: Fine Arts/Leisure, Art Review
Friday, May 10, 2002
By Roberta Smith

A Profusion of Painting, Very Much Alive

The idea that painting is dead is more passe than ever, judging from the medium's dominance in New York City's commercial galleries this weekend.
More than ever, painting is a house of many mansions. The current plethora of shows amounts to a movable seminar. It offers a rich progression of calls and responses between different generations and reputations, voiced by artists from around the world in exhibitions that are often only steps apart.

The young South African artist Thabiso Phokompe makes more subtle, genuine use of African cultural roots. Now living in Brooklyn, Mr. Phokompe is showing earth-stained burlap pieces, part painting, part shield, part votive object, in his New York debut at the Axis Gallery in Chelsea. He dots his roughly patched, unstretched surfaces with. beads, safety pins and amuletlike cloth packets, and often attaches a wood staff as a finishing touch. The results are somber and delicate, suggestive of ancient rituals, but also related to the work of 20th-century artists like Alberto Burri and Lenore Tawney, who were indebted to non-Western traditions.