Vamba Bility’s reverence for objects reverberates across his work. Though the young painter has been at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles for the past week for his first solo institutional exhibition ever, his works on the walls transport the viewer across the globe. Bility’s visual lexicon traverses the West African countries of Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, where the artist spent his formative years; it germinates in New England, where he received his MFA in painting and printmaking at Yale University in 2021 and still resides; to now stop, if only momentarily, in California.
The materials in Bility’s new paintings and assemblages trace what the artist refers to as his “personal cross-Atlantic journey.” New works expand upon ideas from recent years: A calabash fruit appears sculptural, resting on a pedestal in two untitled works from 2023. The gourd is native to West Africa and is traditionally hollowed, dried, and used to make musical instruments, containers for water, bowls to serve or store food, and—for the artist—vessels for memories. Other works continue Bility’s exploration of textiles, as seen previously in Moving between, 2020, where a bolt of acrylic-and-cotton yarn forms an evocative composite stretched against a cement and graphite backdrop. The grey, woven textile sprawls across the frame, its edges pointedly pulled and distorted so that the fabric itself protrudes in animated angles as if a frenetic energy is trapped beneath.
At the Hammer, Bility’s found objects are everywhere, imbued with a dynamism that comes from the painterly sum of their parts. Cement, a window frame, plywood, metal chains, calabash gourds, a mirror, and a football are exalted within the gallery context—underscoring and overlaying the paintings that pulse from the center. Finally, the artist’s interest in the poetics of mark-making is center frame in Shadows, 2022-23, where gestural strokes of red, charcoal, and gold oil paint explode across the canvas; a woven tapestry of muted mauves and blue drapes vertically over the left-hand side, curtain-like, concealing part of the painting. A wooden window-frame is affixed to one side, and a white, dilapidated soccer ball rests on the floor.
“Hammer Projects: Vamba Bility” is on view through May 14, 2024 at the Hammer Museum at 10899 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA.