Art

100th art exhibition marks Geraldine Robarts’ graceful finale

art

Geraldine Robarts paintings at her 100th exhibition in Nairobi. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

margarettawagacheru_img

Summary

  • Geraldine Robarts vows that this one will be her very last one-woman show.
  • All her 65 paintings in her ‘Reflections’ showcase have been painted in the past year.
  • Her 100th show reveals her consistent love of the sea, coastal villages, indigenous trees, and the natural beauty of Kenya.

Celebrating her 100th major art exhibition tonight at Nairobi’s Village Market, at aged 83, Geraldine Robarts vows that this one will be her very last one-woman show. But whether this intrepid artist will stick to that vow or not, there is no denying that her 100th exposes the vibrant vision of an artist who still seems to be in her prime.

All her 65 paintings in her ‘Reflections’ showcase have been painted in the past year. Only a few works were shown during a previous private exhibition that she held at her gallery at her Karen home in Nairobi.

Many of her eye-catching paintings veritably explode with flaming colours that seem to reflect a spirit aglow with a limitless passion for all things artistic, and an energy that feels irrepressible and in denial of the need to slow down.

“I have slowed down a bit since I've had a few physical challenges,” Geraldine admits. But she refuses to let them stop her from painting in six-hour sprints that can easily run seven or eight when her spirit dictates that she not stops.

Reflecting many of the themes that have been emblematic in her art over the years, her 100th show reveals her consistent love of the sea, coastal villages, indigenous trees, and the natural beauty of Kenya.

painting

Geraldine Robarts' abstracts are evocative of the Kenyan landscape. PHOTO | COURTESY

She also has lots to say visually about our world in transition. At the same time, she has painted several abstract works of colour, texture, and tone, all reflecting the affirmative yet inquisitive spirit of the artist. A number of these also expose Geraldine’s fascination with universal images of starry skies and inter-planetary happenings beyond the scope of our mortal gaze.

“My 100th exhibition will be especially dear to me because my daughter Sarah has come from the US to be by my side. She has also brought her friend, Sir Sebastian Coe, president of World Athletics, who might share a few words at the opening,” Geraldine tells BDLife.

None of her other children were able to come for the opening since they are scattered around the planet. One lives in China, another in Canada, and the third stays in the UK.

“All of them are busy working people so I respect their need to stick with their jobs,” says Geraldine who has been a working artist practically all her life.

And while her first affinity is for painting, this octogenarian has spent many years teaching and mentoring, both at universities like Makerere in Uganda and McGill in Canada, and in villages like Makueni where she worked with several local women groups.

“Men were also members of these groups since I was sharing skills to boost all of their income-generating capacities,” she says. One of her biggest challenges was helping the women to diversify their artistic production.

“Many of them were weavers of sisal baskets, so we wanted to show them how [by using looms] to adapt their weaving skills to create colourful woven wall hangings, mats, and tapestries,” says Geraldine who adds that those items are now selling all over the world.

But some of her most memorable years as a teacher, she recalls, were at Makerere University in Uganda where she taught several Kenyans, including the award-winning Kisii stone sculptor, Elkana Ong’esa. Meanwhile, out of the 100 exhibitions that Geraldine has held over the years, many took place outside East Africa, in places like China, UK, the US, and Canada.

She says one place where her art shows were consistently successful was in China where she exhibited no less than five times.

“The Chinese have a deep appreciation of contemporary art, and they especially liked my abstract works,” she adds.

Primarily painting in oils on canvas, Geraldine also has several watercolours and a few works painted in acrylics.

But she admits she has been slow to make the transition out of her beloved oils, despite her doctor’s advice that the chemicals in oils harm her body. That effect is one of the reasons her 100th show might be her last.

Ultimately, it may depend on whether she willingly gives up her oil paints, which is her favoured medium and the one that enables her to produce works that are often multi-layered and textured to become almost three-dimensional in their effect.

Geraldine studied fine art in South Africa, UK, and Canada. But her first teacher was the grandmother who gave her that first paintbrush that got her started and ensured she would never stop.