Blurred Lines is the long-awaited exhibition by two of Kenya’s most acclaimed contemporary artists whose art has gone all over the world, yet in recent times both have been fairly quiet, working behind the scenes and staying out of the limelight.
That’s one reason why the turn-out to their exhibition opening last Saturday at The Art Space was jam-packed with both younger artists as well as peers of the two who were eager to see what Gakunju Kaigwa and Justus Kyalo have been doing artistically since their apparent ‘disappearance’ from the local scene.
In reality, neither had actually gone underground, only that Kyalo had migrated to Kitengela and built a better, bigger studio for himself there, while Kaigwa has been teaching fine art, something he’d wanted to do for years, but now realises that teaching may be fulfilling but it’s also time-consuming requiring sacrifices of his own creative efforts.
So now that they are back on the scene, their show may be called ‘Blurred Lines’, but there’s a sharp distinction between the two men’s artistry, both in terms of the media and methods that they use to create their works.
At the same time as their art forms seem to contrast dramatically, especially as Kaigwa is a sculptor while Kyalo is a painter, their creations don’t actually clash or even cause us to question why the Art Space curator Wambui Kamiru-Collymore chose to put the art of these two together.
In fact, their artworks complement one another even as Kaigwa’s organic wood and glass functional art pieces feel grounded while Kyalo’s ingenious abstract galvanized metal wall hangings have a look that’s almost celestial.
One thing that the artists have in common is the use of weather as well as time as tools in their creative process. Both allow the weather to work over periods of weeks or even months on their pieces. And in so doing, they both dare to trust nature to do its work.
Explaining his reliance on natural processes to do their work on specific pieces, Kaigwa pointed to a stunning wooden table that he’d topped with a round transparent piece of glass and admitted that he hadn’t sculpted this singular piece of wood (which had once been an ordinary tree stump) alone.
His help inadvertently became a renegade band of hungry termites who had feasted on the stump for several months.
Kaigwa said he’d been monitoring the munchers’ molestation of his stump periodically. Then when he felt the time was ripe and the consequences of their gluttony remarkable (as the hungry ants had left him a shapely abstract form), he removed his stump, washed it thoroughly and confirmed that the ‘damage’ they had done actually enhanced the beauty of the wood, which is one reason why he chose glass to be the table top of his work of functional art.
This is where their show’s title comes in since none of Kaigwa’s pieces are simply tables, chairs, or stools that one can frequently or infrequently use in a home, office, studio or elsewhere.
They are also sculptures in their own right; works of art that happen to be shaped like home décor but actually could easily fit into a museum or gallery setting like The Art Space.
Kyalo also used weather and time to generate incredible imagery on the large metallic sheets that he ‘paints’ not with acrylics, oils or water colours but with diverse concoctions that can include everything from acid and varnish to shellac and dabs of paint.
To hear him describe his experimental process of creating his organic designs, it sounds like Kyalo is a creative cook who produces culinary delights by raiding his kitchen cupboard and throwing in whatever spices and sauces that he can find.
Either way, both men have been working in such experimental styles for quite time.
In fact, one imagines they could easily have things in common with renowned inventors like Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin or even Leonardo di Vinci, all of whom dared to venture into uncharted territories to make new discoveries. Literally thinking ‘out of the box.’
It’s that quality of crafted curiosity as well as daring and commitment to discovering what the Australian art critic Richard Hughes called ‘the shock of the new’ that makes Kyalo and Kaigwa soul-brothers whose works deserve to be seen now up to the first week of May.