Art

Nagila turns geometry pieces into fine art

art

Longinos Nagila's paintings by at Red Hill Art Gallery in Nairobi on March 28, 2022. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • Following his last trip overseas, where he studied filmmaking in Italy (having learned to speak Italian on previous trips there), Longinos held his first ‘film installation’ in 2016.
  • He sought a more experimental challenge and eventually found it in a book lent to him by the former Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Mauro Massoni.
  • Working with two kinds of paper, the watercolour and luminous coloured paper, Longinos’s carefully perforated cuts allow the rows of colour to gleam as they burst out in patterns unique to each piece.

Longinos Nagila never much liked math throughout his early years. Yet his current exhibition at Red Hill Art Gallery entitled ‘Fictional Memories’ looks like a mathematician’s playground.

All his pieces are luminous paper cut-outs which are more likely to have been created by an artist who adored geometry and had the limitless patience required to create rectangles, squares, circles, and precision slivers that only a keen perfectionist could cut into immaculate columns and rows.

“I’d never planned to create art that drew so much from geometry, but somehow it happened,” the artist told BDLife last Sunday at the opening of his first solo show at Red Hill.

Yet his journey into the realm where working with watercolour paper and sharp blades rather than paintbrushes and acrylic paints, was not an instantaneous switch.

It was more like a circuitous path that took him not only to BIFA (Buru Buru Institute of Art) where he specialised in painting but abroad several times and back to Kenya where he has been based at Kuona Artists Alliance ever since.

Following his last trip overseas, where he studied filmmaking in Italy (having learned to speak Italian on previous trips there), Longinos held his first ‘film installation’ in 2016. It quickly revealed how experimental an artist he was and continues to be. Critical of the Western obsession with consumerism, his cinematic commentary was critical yet captivating.

One could see he could have a future in film. Yet it was not to be. Instead, he took a break from both cinema and painting. He sought a more experimental challenge and eventually found it in a book lent to him by the former Italian Ambassador to Kenya, Mauro Massoni.

It was there that he first encountered the contemporary Italian artist Lucio Fontana who, like the French artist Matisse, worked with cut-outs.

“Only Fontana took a completely different, more conceptual approach to cut-outs than Matisse who mainly cut out faces and flowers,” says Longinos. Fontana inspired him with his revolutionary approach to art.

But instead of working with paper cuts as Longinos prefers, the Argentinian-Italian preferred to slash canvas as a means of opening up new pictorial dimensions in each of his artworks.

Longinos also injects another dimension to his cut-outs which are neither paintings in a conventional sense; nor are they two-dimensional, given that his cut-outs open up to reveal various colours and an infinite realm of space behind each one of the cuts.

Where the geometry comes in is first, the framing of his works, some of which are squares, others rectangles, and both are presented in various sizes. But it is in his precisely defined rows and columns of miniature squares and rectangles.

That same perfect sense of symmetry is apparent in the few spheres that he cuts open as well as with his miniature triangles cut-outs included in his show.

Working with two kinds of paper, the watercolour and luminous coloured paper, Longinos’s carefully perforated cuts allow the rows of colour to gleam as they burst out in patterns unique to each piece.

Asking Red Hill’s gallerist, Hellmuth Rossler-Musch what was it about Longinos’s art that inspired him to give him a solo show at the Gallery, he said it was so different from what other contemporary artists are doing currently. He was also impressed with both the patience and the precision apparent in every single piece.

Longinos admits that the first stage of his work involved creating a grid of intersecting lines with graphite to serve as a guide as he cut out his shapes and generated new spaces.

When asked if he had ever made mistakes in his cut-outs, and if so, what did he do, Longinos spoke without hesitation.

“Of course, I’d have to toss the piece, and start again from scratch.”

Longinos adds that each colourful space revealed with his cuts opened up a view of infinite possibilities.

“Everyone can see whatever they wish when they walk through the exhibition,” says Beatrice Wanjiku.

“Everyone has their perspective,” suggesting there is no right or wrong when viewing art.

Longinos says that the challenge Fontana posed was how does someone transform paper into a work of art without paint?” he adds.

The answer he found for himself is “Fictional Memories’.