A jovial artistic genius
Posted Tuesday, June 26 2012 at 19:38
Ever since he won the first juried art competition jointly organised by the Alliance Francaise and the Goethe Institute in 2006, the jovial genius of the Kenyan sculptor-painter from Dagoretti, Joseph ‘Bertiers’ Mbatia has become a global celebrity.
The juried prize was the first of many trips he’s taken to Europe and beyond. That first one took him to Germany and France, visiting museums and art galleries in Berlin, Frankfurt and Paris.
He even had a major exhibition of his art in Heidelberg. But even then, his preference was for Kenya and that kept him grounded and guileless.
Since then, Mbatia’s to Scandinavia several times as well as to the UK, US and West Africa.
But he is definitely a ‘homeyan’ at heart, the kind of who admits he gets the most inspiration for his art from ordinary Kenyans living their everyday lives.
It’s a reality that one can easily see in his exhibition of picturesque paintings and scrap metal sculptures currently at OneOff Gallery.
Mbatia has a gift for translating the energies, issues and absurdities of everyday Kenyan life into colourful and complex visual feasts that one can study for hours just to get all the jokes, juxtapositions and garrulous genius of Kenyans making do in their daily lives.
For instance, a painting like ‘Domestic Violence’ graphically depicts the issue that’s the current talk of town, that of women beating up their men.
It’s no laughing matter, but Mbatia’s gift for making satire into a visual art allows his painting to convey the broader picture of the whole problem women have with the men of Kenya today.
He does the same thing in his scrap metal sculptures. For instance, his ‘Vision 2030” makes a powerful statement about how he doesn’t see the vision materialising into anything new.
His monumental metallic matatu looks no different from those on the roads today except for far the fact that it’s more encumbered and crowded.
The artist admits he has a few paintings at OneOff which he has shown in earlier shows, such as ‘Stupidity never goes out of style’ which reveals the raucous style of humour that runs through most of Mbatia’s art.
The show seems slightly Spartan, which could be because Mbatia’s work currently features in not one but three exhibitions: one in Nairobi, another in London and a third, in Denmark, where his art is part of a group exhibition entitled “Power and Light” which is travelling all around the country through July. He was also recently featured in another group show at the Michael Joseph Centre entitled ‘Zebra in Red Heels’.
Another reason Mbatia doesn’t have more artworks at OneOff is because he handed over a dozen art works to a British art dealer who successfully sold four of them to the renowned African art collector Jean Pigozzi.
The other eight are currently on exhibition in the Fred Mann Gallery in London. Mann sold four paintings during the big Art Basel showcase in Switzerland back in June 201