Patti Endo’s collaborative exhibition with Paul Onditi which opened last weekend at Tribal Gallery in Nairobi is not the first time she has partnered with a fellow artist.
“One of my most successful collaborations has been with Sandstorm,” says the creative who, besides being a professional artist, has a brand that she shares with her sister, Yvonne.
“It’s Endo Squared [Endo2],” Patti tells BDLife. That’s the company she started with Yvonne upon her return from her art studies in the UK in 2016.
The Sandstorm leather and canvas bags that she adorns with her distinctive single-line drawings are works of art, not just merchandise that monetises the creative work that she does.
The heavy cotton bags that Endo2 shows off on Instagram also reflect the collaborative spirit.
It is one that Patti and Yvonne have shared for the last 25 years, ever since she was born in a suburb outside Tokyo two and a half decades ago.
The art featuring the Endo2 logo and sold in Sandstorm shops is different from the work that she is currently showing with Onditi in Loresho. Both reflect her love of line drawing and her focus on figurative.
But the collaborative works in the exhibition bring together two radically different modalities with varying degrees of success.
“We have very different styles,” Patti admits. “I’m minimalist which may be a function of my Japanese background. And he is a ‘maximulist ’ [if such a word exists] meaning his art fills all the space available,” she adds.
But despite their stylistic differences, the idea of illustrating a meeting of the minds and hearts in a series of delicate figures is evocative.
It comes out most literally in their ‘Beyond Self’ series where their minds seem to almost merge into a reassuring oneness.
Yet anyone can see how difficult that process can be, given the psychological boundaries associated with the human ego and a sense of self or identity.
There are only five collaborative works that Endo and Onditi produced for this exhibition. Otherwise, both artists seem to take this opportunity to display some of their more experimental works.
For Onditi, Smokey is still with us, looking quite a bit stronger and more decisive as in a piece like ‘Sporadic 3.’
And Smokey’s cities no longer look hopelessly shattered as several did during one show that he had during the darkest days of the pandemic.
Now, despite his ‘cityscapes’ (Apart Apartments, No Title, and Melting Series 3) looking damaged, they no longer emit a dystopic feeling of despair. Now he even gives his ‘skyscrapers’ colour to compliment his lines.
Meanwhile, Patti explores the same theme of self and oneness with another human being in the solo piece ‘Reflecting the Self’.
Using Japanese ink on Japanese calligraphy paper, she also depicts two heads knocking together but in no way do they transcend the ego boundaries of separation.
They look willing but unable. What works more comfortably is their collaborative “Dance of Minds”. Where the two are now in tandem, expressing their shared spirit in their movement of body and mind.
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One needs to spend a bit of time with their art at Tribal Gallery to get a feeling for this specific show since there is a lot that might not be seen if one passes judgement on the exhibition hastily.
For there are hidden secrets in both artists’ works.
For instance, Patti points out that in every one of their joint works, there’s a subtle visual component that she created as a backdrop behind their larger philosophical constructs, translated into human forms.
One has to look closely to see the tiny faces that Patti has drawn delicately and decisively on each of the five completed for this show.
Her face is there in works like ‘The Battle with One Self’ and also with the one on the programme cover titled ‘Beyond Self.’
For me, they act as a kind of mental cushion easing my eyes into an appreciation of their art, be it collaborative or solo.
Patti admits that people wonder how the two of them came up with this collaborative programme since they knew it was not easy.
“It came out of a conversation,” she says, noting that she has known Onditi since she was a little girl.
“My parents knew Paul and we even owned some of his art,” recalls Patti.
“He was also one of the first people who encouraged me to pursue my art.”