Tinga Tinga Paintings by Lewis: A Review

The painting is slightly under five feet high and two feet wide. Perhaps the size is what initially attracts. The variety of colors could represent a swatch book. The focal point a lion, the cartoon face peaceful. The lion's mane is the color of peach and it falls softly at each side giving the casual feel of a friend, instead of the demanding presence of the king of the jungle, despite that, his kingdom surrounds him.

Hanging before me is an East African Tinga Tinga painting, known for their bright colors and exaggerated cartoon features. This piece was purchased during a vacation at the Tinga Tinga street in Dar es Salaam at the last shop on the left before entering the archway to the Tinga Tinga building. This shop functions differently than the others; it is a cooperative. The works are on consignment instead of being resold. The community of artists that make up this cooperative locate one another through word-of-mouth and reputation.

Lewis painted the artwork. In the sea of paintings that are the Tinga Tinga street where hundreds of works line the walls and floors of dozens of shops Lewis’ style shines. It is graceful, his curves agiler, his hand smoother, his color saturation more precise. His caricatures are more exaggerated and more alien than his peers. Amongst the hundreds, this stands out as unique and personal, as something more than imitation.

The peaceful lion is in the center of the bottom third. To the right are cartoon zebras with exaggeratedly long necks. Below a misshapen leopard and hyena. The leopard is black with yellow spots its face contorted around an open mouth full of teeth. The hyena is yellow with red stripes; recognizable by its hunch. A tortoise crawls along the bottom nearly as big as hyena. To the left are two hippos, one teal and one grey with heads ribbed like caterpillars.

Two stunted elephants frame the lion's face, where perhaps the only thing accurate about them is their trunks. In the center of the painting above this crowd are three yellow-green animals from the antelope family. Their proportions distorted enough that the specific species is unrecognizable.

The viewer's eyes are swept upward, for a much-needed visual break, along the smooth arch of two crossed giraffe necks. One is rust and one cranberry. Their spots are black with yellow outlines. It's like a breath of fresh air from the hectic scene beneath.

Then slowly, as if by magic, the viewer begins to see the background not merely as a mass of color but as a cacophony of birds. Eyes peer out from every direction feathers in every angle. The visual break and the ability for the background to be both chaotic and a scene reflect the artist's keen understanding of composition.

In a place where art seems to be simply for tourists, simply a means of imitation for the sake of sales, a few artists stand out as true creators. Among them Lewis.


This is not a sponsored post. We receive no credit or compensation for the sale or promotion of the artist's works.