Art

Black on white show at Red Hill Gallery

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Churchill Ongere’s abstract painting on display at Red Hill Gallery. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Black on white is the title of the current group exhibition at Red Hill Gallery.
  • All of them brought their best ink drawings, and in cases like Onyis Martin and Lemek Tompoika, they blend ink wash with drawing to create their individual effects.
  • The drawings of all seven seem to convey the simple notion that “art gives you a truth” as Hellmuth said.

Black on white is the title of the current group exhibition at Red Hill Gallery. Not black and white or black with white.

“In German, and I’m told in English too, the term ‘black on white’ refers to telling the truth,” says Hellmuth Rossler-Musch, Red Hill gallerist who has filled his white-walled art space with the works of seven exceptional Kenyan artists.

All of them brought their best ink drawings, and in cases like Onyis Martin and Lemek Tompoika, they blend ink wash with drawing to create their individual effects.

The drawings of all seven seem to convey the simple notion that “art gives you a truth” as Hellmuth said.

Yet so often we hear how the one distinctive feature of African art is colour, bright colours.

Nonetheless, the collective mood that emanates from this exclusively ‘black on white’ show is soothing yet full of intrigue. Each set of works by the seven has a distinctive quality unique to the artist.

The one technical feature they all share, apart from their common colour scheme, is the meticulous quality of their drawings. Each artist has paid attention to detail in a way that can only be described as intense, intricate, and highly individualised.

Take Samuel ‘Ashanti’ Githinji who has a set of six abstract ink drawings in the show. They stand in sharp contrast to the grizzly paintings that filled his previous solo show at Red Hill. It was those very paintings that conveyed raw feelings of anguish and alienation that just earned Githinji a six-month residency at the prestigious Berlin GlogauAir Art later this year. But for me, these abstract drawings reveal another dimension of the artist that is more evocative and appealing.

Onyis Martin also brought a set of six ink drawings which he entitles ‘Reconstruction’. Quite literally, the tiny ‘construction workers’ are busy, hard at work on what looks like bomb sites. Symbolic of sites in Beirut or Kabul, Yemen or Syria? Or possibly whole economies shattered by Covid-19 and needing full overhauls. Either way, his images are the most figurative in the show.

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Onyis Martin’s Reconstruction at Red Hill Gallery. PHOTO | POOL

The other artists are represented with one-of-a-kind apart from Gor Soudan and Churchill Ongere, both of whom are represented with two drawings each. Gor’s minimalist works are the only ones not for sale in this show since they belong to Red Hill's vast collection of East African art. Sketch-like, his drawings barely hint at the next direction Gor would take. But he has one inventive artist whose works never fail to surprise and excite.

Ongere’s two come from his previous ‘Suspension’ exhibition. And although we have seen them before, these upside-down boxes blend in effectively with the rest since they are not only black on white, but Ongere's technique is highly refined and complex.

Of the three remaining, Lemek Tompoika’s is a precursor to the works he will present later this year in a solo exhibition also at Red Hill.

The Maasai artist whose childhood was spent in a traditional Maasai home has felt slightly lost ever since he started schooling and losing touch with his non-Western roots. So the theme of identity is one Lemek explores in depth in all his current works. Yet we will have to wait till possibly August to see how he drives home his quest for identity. His one piece at Red Hill is semi-abstract, suggestive of a figure overlaid with intricate lines obstructing full exposure of the man.

Jess Atieno’s one drawing is a semi-cellular design of spheres forming amoeba-like creatures, the kind you might see under a high-powered electron microscope. Jess is still in the US, studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.