Portfolio by Ronex Ahimbisibwe/Introduction by TWR
Abandoned, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 40 cm

Ronex Ahimbisibwe was born in 1977 in the western Ugandan district of Mbarara. He graduated from Makerere University’s Margaret Trowell School of Industrial and Fine Arts in 2001, a period during which some of Uganda’s most consequential artists came of age. A very prolific artist who usually gets at least one solo show every year, Ronex is unquestionably one of Uganda’s most durable artists. He has produced perhaps the biggest body of work by a Ugandan artist still at work, and his finest pieces rank among the most outstanding works of our time.

Ronex makes his art in the house in Makerere in which he has lived for many years. He rests during daylight and works at night, a quirk that somehow reinforces the proper artist in him. Surrounded by his pieces that hang on the walls and litter the floor, bothered from time to time by a trembling hand, he thinks all the time  of what he will create next. At the time TWR spoke to him, sometime in October, he was making artworks for his first sculpture show ever, multi-material works that reaffirmed his versatility as well as his abiding sense of hard work. There were just too many of them, but Ronex still was making more so that the gallerist could pick and choose what she wanted and leave the rest behind. So, when all’s said and done, Ronex could be the biggest collector of his own artworks, which are proudly exhibited in every room, in the corridor, even in a container in the yard. Whatever else this proves, it also shows that Ronex is committed to conserving his legacy, and he spoke firmly of plans to build a space that would hold his works in perpetuity.

The pieces TWR is publishing  exemplify Ronex at his best, for his oeuvre is so vast that it’s impossible to put him in a particular box. He’s a multi-media artist whose work stretches the whole gamut from cubist  constructions to expressionist pieces that can seem to render a child’s perspective of reality. He’s generally not a color beast, aiming for “cool compositions” that are devoid of any color struggle, so to speak.

The motif that really unites Ronex’s work is what he described as a “patch,”  the fusion of different isms and techniques that the artist has been exposed to throughout his long career. “To me, I would ask myself, ‘How did I come to know what I know?’ That’s why there’s an element of a patch in my work,” he told TWR. “That’s something you will see in all my work. As an individual you come with nothing, and then start patching  things up. We are, because of those patches, but also at the end there are gaps. Even if you know something, you feel you need to know more… For me, the patch almost symbolizes life itself.”

His “patchism,” as he put it, borrows from different styles of creating, and he spoke of there being so many isms in art that perhaps “the only way to create new work is combining things.” The patches in his work sometimes may not be immediately apparent to the untrained eye, but they are there. Most importantly, there are pieces in  this portfolio that are simply exquisite. “Lamp on a Bench,” a poignant still  life which has been selected as cover art for this issue of TWR, is made in the pointillist-collage technique that Ronex has recently been working on. The cityscape titled “Abandoned,” his study of an empty food stall in an abandoned street, haunts us for and by what it doesn’t say. Indeed, despite what some may think, Ronex doesn’t usually focus on what he should say as much as how he says it. “I thought that if I had any contribution [to artistic  practice], mine would be on how to do certain things,” he said, “because as an artist I can call my work anything. I can lie and you can’t say no.” In his studio Ronex is a generous and patient host, engaging in thoughtful conversation. Over the years he’s done for his collectors what no other Ugandan artist has emulated: if a particular piece by Ronex was available for sale at $500 in 2007, for example, the price remains the same in 2023 if he still owns it. Ronex has no interest in material possessions, has never owned a car, and wants only to get on a plane and go somewhere, Greece maybe, without depending on anybody. ▪