Art

11 Artists at Kobo Gallery

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Timothy Ochola’s African Astronaut painting at Kobo Trust on October 10, 2021. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

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Summary

  • All 11 artists have one or more of their latest creations in the hall until early next month.
  • Inside the hall, each artist has their own space where they reveal their contrasting characters.
  • Njihia fills one exquisite oil painting with the faces of young schoolboys.

David Thuku describes Kobo Trust as “not a gallery or an artists’ collective, but a space where interesting young artists are welcome to come and collaborate with us.”

The ‘us’ includes established artists like Thuku, Onyis Martin, Paul Njihia, Nadia Wamunyu, Lemek Sompoika, and Deng Chol who have been based at Kobo Trust for donkey’s years.

The ‘interesting young artists’ with whom they have been collaborating in recent times include Onesmus Okamar, Taabu Munyoki, Timothy Ochola, Rasto Cyprian, and ‘guest artist’ Sheila Bayley who was invited to take part in the Open Studio and group exhibition currently running in the Trust’s vast assembly hall in Nairobi’s Riara Road.

All 11 artists have one or more of their latest creations in the hall until early next month. And while the ‘open studio’ idea was only a day-long event, the hall is just a few steps away from the artists' studios where you will find more artistic works in progress.

In the exhibition hall, it’s Onesmus’ painted ladies that greet you in the foyer. Wrapped in colourful cloaks, blankets, and scarves, these sweet-looking sisters are, according to the title, “Solving [problems] together.”

Inside the hall, each artist has their own space where they reveal their contrasting characters. They all may be painters, but each has his or her style, unique subject of focus, medium of expression, and media mix.

For instance, Njihia fills one exquisite oil painting with the faces of young schoolboys. They are children packed together in a single clan, filled with limitless energy and apparent enthusiasm for moving as quickly as they can.

Children are also featured in the paintings by Cyprian Rasto, a gifted young artist who found his way to Kobo while still in secondary school.

Adults are also interrogated in many of the remaining works. Their forms are scattered all over the hall, often as familiar images that have been re-imagined in fresh, new forms. Possibly the freshest is the cheeky painting of an ‘African Astronaut’ by Kobo newcomer, Timothy Ochola. In contrast, Thuku’s three figures remind us of beings he had introduced in earlier shows, only now they are in new circumstances. They are having to cope with Covid-19 protocols and the issue of masks.

Onyis Martin also modifies images of men who have previously served as his iconic visual storytellers. Now he is more focused on faces and flashy suits as if he is embarking on a new visual chapter in his storytelling strategy.

Meanwhile, Lemek Sompoika still has his one-man exhibition of mainly abstract artworks at Red Hill Gallery. But the one figurative painting in that show sparked so much attention, it inspired Lemok to create more agile Maasai morans, each leaping at Kobo to phenomenal aerial heights.

Nadia’s focus is naturally more on women than men. But she has modified her black and white nudes, re-shaping them into intriguingly angular shapes and lines that arouse more curiosity than self-consciousness. No longer can they be seen as nudes. Instead, they feel semi-abstract and startling for their newness and their suggestion that Nadia is also on a new track of artistic discovery.

Abstract art also finds a home at Kobo, first and foremost in the artworks of the Sudan-born painter Deng Chol. He creates colourful pieces that appear to be complex puzzles of intersecting lines and hot wires that seem to have special powers of their own.

Two other semi-abstract artists in the show are Taabu Munyoki who works closely with Thuku, experimenting with paper-cuts as well as pen and ink, and guest artist Sheila Bayley whose dense line drawings create intense focal points that keep one wondering: what’s inside these hot spots of grid-like designs? Are the doodles or high-rise living spaces? It is interesting works either way.

Taabu was a Kenyatta University fine arts graduate when she was drawn to work with Thuku whose experimental approach to art had a special appeal for her. It differed greatly from what she had been taught at KU and she appreciated that.

That experimental edge of Thuku pops up in the second phase of his presence in the Kobo show. This time he's trying out a new cut-paper technique that he's shy to talk about. He simply says he's still working out how to create negative space in his art. So his experimental alchemy carries on.