Erick ‘Stickky’ Muriithi has an affinity for sweaters and shoes.
Even before he started painting shoes on canvas or drawing them with charcoal on straw paper or spray-painted them on stone walls, he was painting colourful graffiti designs of people’s walking shoes.
One cannot be sure what sparked that passion for footwear, but it might have something to do with his growing up playing Lifundo (an improvised ball) barefooted.
“Nobody plays Lifundo anymore since we used to make our ball with plastic bags. But since plastic bags are outlawed in Kenya today, the pastime is dead. But it was really fun,” recalls Elvis Ochieng', a Kenyatta University art student and intern at Nairobi National Museum where Stickky’s second solo exhibition opened late last week.
BDLife was at the Artist Talk with Stickky and Elvis last Friday where Stickky had managed to include one Lifundo ball painting in his show together with one of a Lifundo match where one could almost feel the youthful vitality of the boys at play.
That same vibrant dynamism is also present in paintings like ‘B-boy’ and ‘Kick-Push’, the first portraying a lad who displays the agility of a dancer and the energy of a hip hop artist, and the second is of a skate-boarder just about to take a spill off his board but struggling to hold his balance, assisted by what looks like turbo-jets fired up on the back end of his board.
Stickky’s show, entitled Watu, Viatu, na Mavazi 2 is not only about shoes, despite his featuring everything from hiking boots and a ballet slipper to Nike sports shoes and well-worn Bata sneakers. It also has its share of second-hand sweaters, each one a part of his ‘Stolen Sweaters’ series.
“I call them ‘stolen’ because they tend to come and go, depending on which of my friends decides he (or she) feels they need one of my sweaters more than I do,” says the artist whose sweaters tend to be big, bright and multicoloured.
Stickky’s use of colour is nearly as emblematic of his style as are his shoes. Some might find his mix and clashing non-match of hues a pain in their eyes. Others might feel the colours juxtaposed in a work like “Kick, Push” are garish and disturbing.
But that would be fine with Stickky whose paintings often require the viewer to do a double-take to see what he is doing in his art, which is essentially having fun.
For instance, one might look at his paintings of a pair of sneakers or low-cut boots, and not instantly notice the two shoes don’t match. You could not easily miss the fact that the ballerina wearing his ballet shoe is only wearing one. The other barefoot looks battered and bandaged.
“I have many friends who are dancers, and they often struggle to deal with their feet,” says Stickky who also includes several lavish portraits of lovely African women, each decked out in elegant gowns made with bright, unforgettable colours that seem to radiate with an incandescent glow.
At the same time, there is a whole section of the gallery in which only hangs Stickky’s charcoal drawings. So while most of his works are painted with acrylics or spray paint, that one section is devoid of colour apart from blacks and browns.
Yet here one can see Stickky’s real skill in draughtsmanship as he draws fingers touching tenderly and delicate feet elongated as in a ballerina’s pose on her toes.
When asked why he has charcoal works in his show, he explains that his first mentor and art teacher was Patrick Mukabi who starts everyone out with charcoal which he says teaches them many lessons.
“One of them is patience,” says Stickky who told the crowd who came to his Artist Talk the day after his show’s opening, “Patrick Mukabi taught me everything I know.”
But he adds a caveat to that. “I learned about graffiti from Uhuru B who by then was based at the GoDown,” says Stickky.
It was in 2015 that they all shifted from GoDown to the Railway Museum and after that, Stickky finally moved to Karen Village (as did Mukabi) where they are all based today.
Stickky spent most of his childhood in Western Kenya since that is where his mother worked. Then he went to secondary in Nyeri and finally came to Nairobi for college at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication. He says meeting Mukabi changed his life.