Art

Paintings of small things by a big talent

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Agnes Waruguru's solo exibition dubbed Small Things to Consider at Circle Art Gallery on September 29, 2020. DIANA NGILA | NAIROBI

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Summary

  • Having opened September 9 and running through October 8, Agnes' show was Circle Art's first public opening since the pandemic shut it down.
  • Visitors can only come by appointment and agree to follow all the safety precautions.
  • Agnes was trained to be a painter (in Kenya and the US) but chose early on to break away from the conventional approach of working on primed, stretched canvas.
  • She prefers cotton materials, citing the leso and kitenge fabrics as the home-grown inspiration that reveals one of her 'small things to consider', namely her affinity for her heritage and indigenous culture.

Agnes Waruguru brings a breath of fresh air to Nairobi's art scene with her first solo exhibition entitled ‘Small Things to Consider’ at Circle Art Gallery. Having opened September 9 and running through October 8, Agnes' show was Circle Art's first public opening since the pandemic shut it down.

Visitors can only come by appointment and agree to follow all the safety precautions.

Agnes was trained to be a painter (in Kenya and the US) but chose early on to break away from the conventional approach of working on primed, stretched canvas. She prefers cotton materials, citing the leso and kitenge fabrics as the home-grown inspiration that reveals one of her 'small things to consider', namely her affinity for her heritage and indigenous culture.

It was during her studies in California and Georgia that she realised she wanted her art to celebrate Kenyan culture and not merely emulate Western traditions and techniques.

While she uses some acrylic paints and pastels in her art, Agnes also employs traditional skills learned from childhood such as stitching, knitting, embroidery and crocheting.

She experiments with everything from charcoal, ink and colourful dyes, to grass. She is also inclined to work with found objects, particularly the trashed netting that she found in Nairobi and in Lamu where she went on a six-week residency in 2019.

Agnes doesn't describe herself as an environmental artist. But her affinity with nature is apparent in much of the semi-abstract artworks in her first solo show. Consisting paintings, drawings, and a series of mono-prints that she produced in Lamu, her show reflects a refreshing spontaneity, confidence, and freedom which has resulted in art that is fearlessly unconventional.

Much of her exhibition seems to have been inspired by her time at the Coast. For instance, the first painting she created after reaching Lamu Island reveals her elation at being at the ocean and under a brilliant yellow sun.

It is also in that first work that she painted not simply with brushes, but also with grasses that surrounded her as she painted in the open air, in 'plein air' style.

That same sense of joy and spontaneity comes through in much of her work, her paintings being at once atmospheric and translucent. Her colours are sun-kissed but slightly muted as they often blend in what feels like a cross between carnival- and rainbow-hues.

This is because her version of 'priming' her cotton consists sequentially pouring a mixture of water, acrylic paint, and dye over her fabric. After that, she allows that magical blend to take its time, absorbed and forming contours and organic designs.

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Agnes Waruguru's solo exibition dubbed Small Things to Consider at Circle Art Gallery on September 29, 2020. DIANA NGILA | NAIROBI

One can see her love of nature coming through in artworks like ‘On Paradise, Swamps and Other Lands’, ‘In reality, Dreaming of Palms’ and ‘Luc Rose.’

Agnes' delicate mono-prints seem slightly too diminutive to be hung as they are on one of the gallery’s vast white walls.

Nonetheless, the miniature prints that she produced, using acrylic paints on paper, and pressed together with pieces of discarded industrial mesh, create a fascinating effect.

Observing that she used several kinds of netting in her show, Agnes admits that her distress at seeing the trashed plastic bags and the metallic industrial mesh led her to experiment in ingenious ways and ultimately to produce highly original art.

Meanwhile, do not miss Camille Wekesa's exhibition, ‘Lattices’ at Red Hill Art Gallery through October 18.

Then on September 26, a show of Elias Mungora's newest paintings opens at One Off Gallery.