In Conversation: Kim's new floral love on his day of 'coronation'

Richard Kimathi's portrait of guys hanging out In conversation at One Off Gallery on April 4, 2024.

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

It was much more than simply a book launch, although the book itself is a masterpiece devoted to revealing the multifaceted genius of one Kenyan artist, Richard ‘Kim’ Kimathi.

It was also more than an art exhibition opening for Kimathi at One Off Gallery last Thursday night with his solo show entitled In Conversation.

Instead, it was more like the coronation of a prince into the enclave of Pan-African star artists who had already been bestowed with blessings by the Almas Art Foundation. That’s the London-based art foundation established by the British-Somali philanthropist Farah Fonkenell` to help build global awareness of the artistic genius, dynamism, and vibrancy of the arts in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere broadly.

Her foundation has already uplifted awareness in the international art world of star artists from such countries as Senegal, Pakistan, Spain, and Italy. And now Kenya has joined this illustrious set of artists.

Richard Kimathi's 'A green neighborhood' at One Off Gallery on April 4, 2024.

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

Farah had settled on Kenya as the site of her latest book project by 2021. That was when she, assisted by One Off Gallery and a team of Kenyan curators, scholars, and critics set out to find the most compelling and gifted artist that she would invite to participate in Almas’ latest project.

No pressure was put on the artist to participate. But really, what artist do you know would have declined an offer of not only a comprehensive book about their art and life to be published in the UK? The foundation would also fund an exhibition of his or her latest works (In Conversation), most of which would be included in the book.

There would be funds given and who knows what other events might take place, especially through encounters with fellow artists already honoured by Almas. And through the buzz that’s bound to arise from another name going out on the airwaves, there would also be greater global awareness of Kimathi and other Kenyan artists as well.

That Kimathi is deserving of all these honours, there is little doubt. But since he is such a quiet, unassuming guy and a dedicated dad of three, he prefers to stay out of the limelight. If that may have led to Kimathi being less known than other local luminaries, that is not the case with Lisa, the curator and owner of a New York City Gallery who told the BDLife how she had flown in from New York especially to attend Kimathi’s book launch.

Richard Kimathi at One Off Gallery on April 4, 2024.

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

“I’ve been collecting Richard’s art for the last 10 years, and I’ve loved watching the way his art has evolved in that time, so I simply had to come,” she told us a few minutes after her arrival at One Off where she first encountered his art.

The book itself beautifully illustrates Kimathi’s most recent works, produced between 2022 and 2023. Historically, he has been an experimental artist, exploring the artistic possibilities of painting with both palette knife and brush, but drawing has always been his forte. That aptitude was refined in secondary school where his teachers would have him illustrate their lecture points with Kimathi drawing in chalk on school blackboards.

Then when he first came to Nairobi to attend the now-defunct Creative Arts Centre, he strengthened those skills along with painting, etching, collage, and printmaking, all of which he’s experimented with ever since. Kimathi says he also studied graphic design which led him to an even greater appreciation of lines and design. One can see that influence illustrated in beautiful, albeit decorative works like his large-scale paintings filled with flower blossoms, one with swirling men mixed in, one with just the flowers in full bloom.

Richard Kimathi's 'Free Fall' at One Off Gallery on April 4, 2024.

Photo credit: Margaretta wa Gacheru | Nation Media Group

Asking Kimathi on the evening of his opening, where his new-found love of floral came from, he requested that we go watch the video to get the answer to our query. The video, which was at the far end of the gallery, had also been generated by the Almas Foundation. It focuses on the artist’s current lifestyle, home studio and garden. It is also where you can see the flower buds and their influence on his art.

Kimathi’s current series largely highlights the experience of young men ‘hanging out’ (my term). He describes them as being ‘in conversation’, not ‘lazy’ layabouts, or slow-moving job-seekers.

Ever nonjudgmental, Kimathi’s choice of colours further reflects the positive spirit of an artist who says he loves painting the everyday life all around him, everything from stray dogs and cats to long (or short) lines of guys sustaining themselves ‘in conversations.”

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