Timothy Brooke: The giant among Kenya's great artists


Timothy Brooke with one of his art pieces. FILE PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

The glorious friendship shared between the late, great British-Kenyan artist Timothy Brooke and gallerist Carol Lees was just one of the many stories highlighted last Saturday at the launch of a ‘Requiem Exhibition of Paintings in Oil on Canvas’ in Memoriam to Mr Brooke at One Off Gallery in Nairobi.

As the first anniversary of his passing at age 80 is coming up soon, Carol, in collaboration with Tim’s wife Jill, chose to commemorate his life with an exhibition of a broad assortment of his iconic images, some of which are the latest works he painted before he passed, and a few that are older pieces hung in both galleries at One Off, the Stables and the Loft.

Tim and Carol’s friendship began nearly 30 years ago, sometime after he had returned home to Kenya from the UK where he had studied both at St. Martin’s and Farnham Schools of Fine Art.

“We started exhibiting Tim’s art shortly after we opened One Off Gallery in 1994,” Carol tells the BDLife.

But even as One Off has shown his art more than a dozen times (if you include the four times he showed at RaMoMa which Carol owned together with the Kenya-born artist Mary Collis), he had also exhibited on multiple occasions in the US, UK, and Ireland, and occasionally in Germany and Poland as well.

We were informed of this fact by Steven Cachan, one of the three close friends who had been invited to speak during prime time at Saturday morning’s memorial ‘service’.

Each of the three shared reminisces of Tim. Each knew him from a slightly different angle, but all three shared sensitive insights about the man they all considered an artistic giant who one art critic described as “arguably the most technically accomplished painter in the entire region.”

In Cachan’s case, his friendship with Tim grew out of his love of Timothy’s art. “The first time I saw it, I fell in love with it,” he says.

“Right now, there isn’t a wall in my home in Kenya that doesn’t have one of Tim’s paintings on it,” he adds proudly.

He describes Tim as a man with “extraordinary gifts” whom he considers a committed friend whose art is scattered in private collections all over the world, especially in the US, Ireland, Kenya and the UK.

“Tim loved the outdoors; he especially loved to fish and taught me to love it too,” Cachan adds.

The other thing that this avid art collector knew about Tim is that he was a devoted family man, whose ‘three girls, Jill and their two girls, Rebecca and Abigail, were the foundation of his life work.

The three men referred to Tim’s love of family and the outdoors. They also shared the point of feeling fortunate to know that “his spirit lives on through his art.”

That is essentially what another long-time friend, Peter Hetz told a full-house audience who came out to commemorate Brooke’s brilliance.

Hetz described himself as “no art critic”. Yet he spoke with sensitivity and nuance about qualities of Brooke’s art that conveyed why he is another friend who loves Tim’s art.


Timothy Brooke's Water buffalo at One Off Gallery. FILE PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

He spoke about the artist’s exquisite use of light and shadow, colour, and broad sweeping brush strokes. Hetz also took note of how Tim used to love being up and outdoors early, prepared to paint Mount Kenya in the dawning morning light.

“He would also paint the radiant light of the late afternoon sun that could only be seen for a split-second of a moment.”

But out of the three keynote speakers sharing their reminisces about their dear friend, it was Gayling May, who had known Tim from the time his parents moved into Kibagare Valley in 1952, just across the ridge from his home who shared insights most revealing of the early experiences of Tim.

For instance, May said that Tim’s artistic inclination came when his little sister was born, compelling his architect father to build a rondavel just for Tim since the house got too full.

“Tim went ahead and painted the whole rondavel, both inside and out,” says May.

Around that same time, he also built a boat from scratch, after which he’d go fishing and take May with him. They also rode bikes together and later on, motorcycles too.

At intermission, Tim’s daughter Rebecca played an old English hymn on her flute. And lastly, an unexpected contributor, Pheroze Nowrojee came forward to share his original poem dedicated to the creativity of Timothy Brooke.

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