Adler Beatty in collaboration with Goodman Gallery is pleased to present Jazz and Blues at Night, Sam Nhlengethwa’s first solo exhibition in New York City. The show features a series of rich mixed-media collage works that pay homage to the musicians that have inspired Nhlegethwa throughout his five decades-long artistic career. Punctuating this body of work are a selection of works by Romare Bearden, a long time artistic reference for Nhlengethwa, who was similarly embedded in the world of Jazz in the United States. The exhibition is paired with a concurrent solo show of the same name at Goodman Gallery London, emphasizing the transatlantic resonance of his practice and of jazz itself. It follows on from significant exhibitions at the Rupert Museum, South Africa (2020), The University of Michigan Museum (2017) and SCAD Museum, Georgia (2014). Jazz and Blues at Night opens on September 14th and runs until October 23rd.
Over the course of his career, Nhlengethwa - dubbed “one of the South Africa’s most celebrated living artists” - has developed a distinctive collage and painting practice while exploring themes common to everyday life in South Africa, from street life and domestic interiors to the influence of mining. Intrinsic to this practice is Nhlengethwa’s love of jazz. From the age of 15, Nhlengethwa was exposed to the genre through his two older brothers who listened to everything from the classic standards of artists such as Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck to the more experimental sounds of Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and Charles Mingus, to name a few.
“My life belongs to the jazz world because I don’t spend a day in my studio without listening to jazz in the background,” says Nhlengethwa. With a collection of over 4000 vinyls, Nhlengethwa views his records as “art material”, likening the experience of listening while working to a dialogue. “I don’t think I could be who I am, what I’m doing in the art world, if there was no jazz. It is my daily inspiration.”
Prominent jazz musicians have regularly featured in Nhlengethwa’s work over the years. This time around, the artist has widened his scope to incorporate both jazz and blues artists, bringing to the fore previously overlooked historical figures such as Johnny Lee Hooker and BB King. Elsewhere Nhlengethwa recreates scenes of other iconic groups including among others the Count Basie Orchestra and Louis Armstrong’s band.
Sam Nhlengethwa was born in the black township community of Payneville near Springs (a satellite mining town east of Johannesburg) in 1955 and grew up in Ratanda location in Heidelberg. In the 1980s he moved to Johannesburg and honed his practice at the Johannesburg Art Foundation under Bill Ainslie. Nhlengethwa is one of the founders of the legendary Bag Factory, Newtown in the heart of the city, where he used to share studio space with other pioneering South African artists of his generation, such as David Koloane and Pat Mautloa.
Despite Nhlengethwa’s pioneering role in South African art, his work has received rare visibility in New York. A major survey titled “Life, Jazz and Lots of Other Things” was hosted by SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia (2014), touring to SCAD and the Carter Center, Atlanta. His work has been seen in numerous Biennials from 8th Havana Biennial to the 2013 Venice Biennale and more recently at the 2015 Beijing Biennial.