Ellis Singano is my favourite Malawian artist. I came across his batik art at La Galleria in Lilongwe last year, and decided to buy one of the pieces almost on the spot. It reminded me of Picasso, but with a definite African twist. Once home with the piece, I decided to find out more about the artist; eventually, Ellis and I became Facebook friends. Here’s his story.
Ellis’s full name is Ellis Tayamika Singano. He uses Ellis Singano as his artist name following his father, himself a well-known artist who passed away in 1998.
“I started [doing] art when I was about 13 years old,” Ellis says. “My father used to chase me when he saw me doing it, [although] I did not want to become an artist I was [just] doing it for fun. I was dreaming of becoming a scientist.”
When Ellis was 18, his father passed away. “When my father was at the hospital I finished some [of his] paintings that were unfinished,” he explains. “Soon after his death a lot of his customers asked me if any of his children knew the art; I jumped into it and started delivering to them.”
His dreams of becoming a scientist were buried after positive feedback from customers who saw continuation of his father’s style in Ellis’s art.
“Having seen a lot of people appreciating my art, and that they saw no difference with that of my father [sic], that gave me power,” Ellis says. “I started reading about great artists like Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse – they inspired me more with their great pieces of art.”
In 2000 Ellis began making batik art and developing his own style, though in his father’s spirit. That same year he sold all three paintings he produced; since then he has done more than 30 exhibitions.
Recently he’s delved into soil art. “After seeing that there [are] different colours of soils from one place to another, I came up with an idea of bringing some of these soils together and use as my paints to produce a piece of art,” he says. “I put my first [soil] artwork called ‘The useless hole’ on exhibition in Lilongwe where I sold it straight away and managed to get a lot of customers for soil art. Since then my art talent has been growing and now I’ve started adding dried leaves to soil art to make it more beautiful.”
Not that Ellis thinks he’s peaked. Instead, he says he still sees “a lot of things that need to be discovered.” That goes for other Malawian artists as well, “We have very good artists in Malawi who are doing great works,” he says, ” but Malawian artists need to explore and not dwell on the market in Malawi only.”
Ellis Singano is based in Blantyre, Malawi, and can be reached at ellissingano[at]gmail.com. In Lilongwe, several of his pieces are for sale at La Galleria in Old Town Mall.