Lethabo Huma’s artwork highlights how the medium of painting is no longer just for physical paint, but also digital brushstrokes.

Elspeth Walker  |  Ed Cristina Brooks   |  5 October 2020

Lethabo Huma, a digital artist from Pretoria in South Africa, is creating work that showcases how painting has moved from the canvas to the tablet. Having switched from soft colours to more expressive brushstrokes, her portraits capture ‘her emotional responses to life experiences’. Using the digital medium has allowed her to create beautiful works with intricate detail that capture a variety of emotions in each person she sets out to paint. 

Digital painting is often done with a tablet or computer software. The artist uses a stylist or a computer mouse as if it were a paintbrush to create the image. However, the software lets the artist combine an array of colours, textures and mediums that may not be accessible in a physical medium, often resulting in varied and highly detailed work.  As Huma described in an interview with Between 10 and 5 Magazine: ‘Painting digitally is a bit harder because the connection of a stylus to a tablet will never be as precise and accurate as a paintbrush to canvas. However, digitally painting provides such a wide variety of colours, paintbrush textures and an unbelievable amount of experimental possibilities.’ Her artwork goes against the idea that painting is only for those who reside in ‘traditional’ or ‘high-art’ physical mediums such as oil paints. In reality, it is also a medium for digital artists. 

© Courtesy of the artist.

For many years, art historians have debated whether or not, in the words of artist Paul Delaroche, “painting is dead”, with galleries such as Whitechapel, London, recently creating exhibitions on its revival and relevance in the contemporary art word. Yet painterly work by artists such Lethabo Huma proves that it is not dead, but rather exists in a new, digital world. With technology moving forward, many digital painters are not existing with traditional gallery spaces, but online. During the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns there was a surge in exhibitions moving to online spaces, allowing digital artists to come to the forefront like never before. Artists who adapted, or already created work that was suited for online exhibition, altered the way we experience art.

Huma’s work also occupied the space as she was part of in The Gallyry Magazine’s  first online exhibition, The Apocalypse Will Blossom, and she has even curated her own exhibition space on her website, allowing the viewer to experience her body of work as more than just a catalogue images on a screen. The virtual gallery, designed by London-based platform for black artists Indivisual Gallery, has allowed Huma to create a space that reflects her work beautifully. The evening tones of the light, and the expanse seen though the “windows” have been designed to appear exactly as the artist wants, rather than adhering to the white walls often seen in contemporary spaces today. 

Within the virtual gallery, many of her paintings can be found. Throughout the space her portraits are displayed, often mirroring her mental and emotional responses to life and drawing from inspirational figures or current global events. This can be seen in pieces such as Mask. Her works – like Phases which captures the three emotions she experienced during lockdown: anxiety, inspiration and solitude – reflect her state.

© Courtesy of the artist.

Using strong lines and geometric shapes that intersect across the soft pallet backgrounds, Huma lifts the central images, allowing them to remain delicate and expressive in brushwork, but striking within the composition. Huma often uses the imagery of stars and nature within her work, letting the viewer decode the emotion further. This is seen in pieces such as See No Evil, which shows a woman covering her eyes with her hands, exploring how many ignore or don’t respond to wrongdoings. Yet, the flowers that are laced across her hands, called ‘Black-Eyed Susans’, are symbolic of justice, reflecting back out from the painting and adding a layer of hope to the piece.

Huma’s work is not only inspiring through its interesting composition and individual approach to beauty but also through the path it is carving. Like many other artists, Lethabo Huma’s digital portraiture and paintings expose how this medium is evolving into the digital, allowing greater experimentation and resulting in a new wave of art that blurs the boundaries between digital spaces and physical galleries. 

About the artist

Lethabo Huma, from Pretoria, South Africa, is a digital artist. Working mainly in digital painting, she is a self-taught artist. She draws inspiration from images that trigger emotions from life stories worth telling.

Past Shows and Fair Booths

Solo and Group Shows

Ixhibit : Redefining Virtual Exhibitions – Virtual Exhibition – August 2020

“The Apocalypse Will Blossom” – Online Exhibition – June 2020

Archive Store : Mall of Africa -Live Illustration – August 2019

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