Christian Nyampeta in Conversation with Impasto Painter Izere Antoine

On May 23, 2022, multidimensional, New York-based artist Christian Nyampeta met with Kigali-based Impasto painter Izere Antoine to learn more about his way of thinking, creating and collaborating. Last summer, Nyampeta turned the Guggenheim into an École du Soir (Evening School), combining film, radio and carpentry to continue Ousmane Sembène’s practice of cinema as public education. Nyampeta’s passion for collective experience, development and creation is reflected in his questions to Antoine, most palpably when he asks, ‘Do you also help other artists? And how do you do that?’ Antoine’s art has not only others in mind, but future generations, particularly with his Base Born Series, which imagines how people might prosper personally, stylistically and technologically if they broke the mold of their circumstances.

Christian Nyampeta: What is your preferred name? Izere? Izere Antoine? How do you call yourself?

Izere Antoine: My name is Izere Antoine De Padoue. You can call me Izere, Izere Antoine, anything like that is fine.

Nyampeta: Where are you, Izere?

Antoine: Now I’m in Kigali. I have a studio called Izihirwe arts, which is where I create most of my projects.

Nyampeta: Can you describe your work? What are you working on now and what is your method?

Antoine: I’m working on a small series called the Land of Queens. In it, I incorporate landscapes and figurative images. In general, I do figurative, portraiture-based art and body figures. I try to use them all to describe and express a single concept.

Nyampeta: Can you describe the process and method of your painting?

Antoine: I utilize a technique called impasto, which is painting with heavy strokes. When I’m working, I always think of composition. I focus on nature these days, and sometimes I incorporate creations that might make people think of creating new things like technology. Through my drawings, I’m trying to figure out what makes people go beyond what they always think about. The process is still the same as anyone who does painting: I prepare my canvas, I prime it and then I sketch the drawing that I’m going to paint. The sketch is always important; I take time [to work] on that, then I decide on the colors, because I always need to develop something different for each work. Then I start painting with my palette knife.

Nyampeta: Maybe we’ll come back to the technique and the resulting images... But could you describe your formative path to becoming an artist? What has helped you arrive where you are? What kind of schooling did you undertake in the practice that you have now?

Antoine: I went to an art school in Rwanda called Nyundo Art School. After that, I joined the Izihirwe Arts Studio, which was established around that time. Now I’m a co-founder. This is where I started and where I’m still working. After high school, I tried workshops and training with different organizations. I joined animation training to strengthen myself in sketching and to try a different kind of art. I didn’t want to stay in one thing; I wanted to develop my way of working. After the animation, I had different training sessions with the Imbuto Foundation, which provided an incubation program for the artists. After the workshops, I started developing my paintings and tried to evolve and see if I could put myself out there for people to see what I do. I’m happy people appreciate what I do and that motivates me. I worked with different galleries in Rwanda mostly, one from DRC, and now I’m working with Mitochondria Gallery in Houston, Texas.

Nyampeta: Could you describe some of these galleries in Kigali for those who might not know the names?

Antoine: I worked with Kigali Art Center, Envision Rwanda and Maison Beaulier which owned the gallery called L’espace, one of the biggest art houses in Rwanda. These are the main galleries we’ve had a long relationship with, and we’ve collaborated on different projects and exhibitions as well.

Nyampeta: Do you see a relationship between your work and the themes of Neptune Frost?

Antoine: I really loved the film. I also had the chance to meet one of the people who worked on this project as a costume designer [Cedric Mizero]. I had a project in 2020 called [the] Base Born Series. I was telling the stories of people who were born poor. Through their growing or their way of living, they never took that as a boundary or barrier to develop or to try new things, they had to create or innovate to make a better future for themselves. I was speaking with these people who never took the way they were born as a boundary to their dreams, as I believe everyone is [a] genius and talented, and no one is chosen. I was thinking through ways of creating a better future, of thinking beyond.

After that project, I saw this movie and it inspired me more. I’ve never seen anything like it and I’m not even sure how to describe it. I saw it as one of the greatest pieces that have ever happened. It made me go through and think that maybe this is like a developed piece from my Base Born Series. It’s a great pleasure to even talk about it right now. It was an original creation to me, that's what I can say.

Nyampeta: At what point did you see the film?

Antoine: It was a work in progress. I had a small project with the Costume Designer Cedric Mizero and I asked him about the project because it was different from what he usually creates. He was more into tech at that time. He told me about the thing they were creating and I told him I couldn’t wait to see the final piece. Then I saw the movie. The work is always different from the process. I saw the movie and thought maybe I could start working again on what I did in the past. It’s an amazing creation!

Antoine: I love the impressionists. It is more about how I create the coloring. The first piece of this Base Born project in 2019 was experimental. After that, I thought maybe I can make it a small project. Listening to poems and music sometimes gives me different ideas and energy. They help me create and think deeper through the concepts. I get inspired by impressionist music and poetry and sometimes movies.

Nyampeta: Examples of music and poetry?

Antoine: I like this man, the director of this movie. I knew him a bit before he came to Rwanda. I used to watch his poetry. They’re always inspiring. After that, we met at Rwanda Arts Initiative.

Nyampeta: Saul Williams, you mean?

Antoine: Yes, Saul! Thank you. For music, I listen to Billie Eilish. Her songs are always inspiring to me and sometimes the concepts of her videos [are too]. This woman rapper named Akua Naru, she speaks of freedom. The one who inspires me the most is this lady, the icon, Nina Simone. For me, she is an icon of music history and Black history. Then the impressionists for colors. From the impressionists, I love the works of Claude Monet [laughs].

Nyampeta: [The people depicted in Base Born Series are] wearing these devices that you might say enhance their perceptions. What does that mean for your vision of the future? Is it something that you imagine the future to look like? Or is it a form of reparation? An enhancement of humanity? Or is it, as you say, something about the fact that these are people who look beyond the place in which they were born?

Antoine: Oh yes, the first two pieces are focused on these devices for the eyes. As I said, maybe they’re an enhancement of people’s ability, enabling them to look further into the distance. Thinking about how we can develop ways of seeing beyond what we normally see—see what is coming. Create for the future, create for you to see the future.

Nyampeta: I notice that you describe your work a lot in terms of creation. What does creation mean to you? And I’m actually curious how you would describe ‘creation’ in Kinyarwanda, for example—when you think or express in one language or another, or are precisely painting something that exceeds the boundaries of languages.

Antoine: I think of creation as a way [of acknowledging that] you cannot just see what you have and keep it the same always. If you have a computer, maybe it can be a supercomputer. If you can see today, what are you doing now to live for the next day? [For] the next generation, how are you making the future more simple? Or what are we doing for the next generations to have the ability to see what we’ve never seen? We can create a better way of living.

Nyampeta: I would like to go back to your formation, or creation. Do you also help other artists? And how do you do that? I understand you have and run your own studio. Do other artists work with you? What is the structure of your creation beyond the paintings and more in relation to the community and society in which you live?

Antoine: For my studio, I’m working with two artists, Dusabe King and Zed Kayimahe. The second one, Kayimahe, came to my studio for training. He wanted me to train him. It wasn’t easy for me because I didn’t know I can train someone. [laughs] But I did it because he had that urge to know more and create. Now, he’s working with different galleries, like one from DRC called Bandombe Gallery. It's always a pleasure to work with other artists.

When I visit the artists, the way I can support them is by talking and sharing some ideas about our art. I think it helps to hear everyone’s creative progress. I have a very small collection from Rwandan artists: one is called ‘Bress Aine’, and the other one is ‘Innocent Buregeya’. I also try to connect artists I know from here with different galleries that I think can help them. This is the best I can do because whenever I am talking with a gallery, I try to let them know that here in Rwanda there are people who have strong creations and techniques. There are many people who are trying to break through, to see how they can put their work out [into] the world. I do share their pieces and visit their exhibitions as well. I think everyone feels motivated by simple actions that people do for them.

Nyampeta: Do you have any particular insights into the relationship between gender and the arts beyond what’s apparent? What is your experience there? Because the film also touches on that. And you’ve also described how your work, especially [the] Base Born Series, looks at the possibility of reaching beyond the confines of the conditions of birth.

Antoine: Now, in plastic arts like painting, we don't have the largest number of [women] artists, but they are trying and working hard. It was not easy seven years back to see female plastic artists. I don’t see a difference in the ability of men and women. Our societies didn’t support the arts. Artists fought for their visibility in society because people couldn’t see artists as a man or a woman who was important to the family or society. The more society understands what art really is, the easier more people will get involved in and committed to this sector.

Nyampeta: One last question, do you have a question for me? [laughs]

Antoine: Of course, can you tell me where the idea for Neptune Frost came from?

Nyampeta: I haven’t had the chance to talk with Saul or Anisia, so I think I’m not in a very good position to tell you where the inspiration comes from. [But] one of the things that springs out to me while watching the film is this very intentional, communal ethos of working together. The film really mobilizes a lot of creation, people and relations among a group of artistic practices today, and I thought it was brilliant to bring together so many years of development and making into one work. From what I understand, you met the costume designer, who has a very striking set of creations in the film. There are other people like yourself who are somehow orbiting around the core of the film. Maybe that’s part of what motivates the film and makes it related to your work...

We’ll speak another time, but for now, we can end here. I’m very grateful for your time and look forward to speaking to you again soon, hopefully in person if I ever visit Kigali. And let me know also if you ever visit New York.