Kenyan art finds spot in wine and cheese pairing events

General Manager of Fairview Hotel Bruce Potter gives a speech during the cheese and wine pairing at Fairview Hotel in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

Art, wine, and cheese are not a common pairing experience, but as Kenyans’ love for all three grows, so is the push by restaurants to start organising such events.

Bruce Potter, the general manager at Fairview Hotel in Nairobi, says the biggest aim of featuring art in the pairing events is to give artists a chance to showcase their works to an audience that they previously could not reach.

“It’s about embracing and celebrating Kenyan art and culture,” he said at an event where visual artist Kathy Katuti was showcasing her pieces.

Ms Katuti who started painting 25 years ago says there is a new crop of buyers that appreciates artworks made by Kenyans, over the mass-produced prints sold in shops.

“These buyers are in their 40s, 50s, and a few of them in their late 30s. They appreciate the price of art and hanging an artwork instead of a print in their homes,” she says.

And this is the same group that is enjoying good wine and cheese and is keen to attend pairings. The incorporation of influencers in the wine events has also come with its benefits.

“A wine fan will see an influencer posting on social media about art and wine and get curious. Then they start making inquiries about my paintings. Combining an experience with art is a good opportunity for artists to sell besides displaying in galleries and own studios,” she says.

Ms Katuti who paints and sketches semi-abstract and realism based on African experiences, and who has showcased her art in galleries, and restaurants, says social media has become a game-changer.

“Nowadays, I rarely take my art to galleries. I post them on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook and people buy them. Restaurants such as Talisman {in Nairobi’s Karen} also hang them where diners get to eat as they interact with them. Then buy,” she says.

(L-R) Maryanne Mumbi, Valerie Itenyo, Maureen Kanyi, Duran Guillaume, Chris Njoki and Natali Tewa during the cheese and wine pairing at Fairview Hotel. PHOTO | POOL

“They see an artwork online and if it is sold out, I paint for them something else with a similar theme,” she adds.

The social media strategy has paid off, especially during the pandemic when people felt the need to revamp their homes and had ample time online.

Some clients also invite her to their homes to interact with the spaces to understand the kind of artwork would suit their walls.

“This wasn’t the case years ago. But now some homeowners say ‘come to my house and advise what would suit,” she says.

Over the centuries and across cultures, wine and cheese have been visual signifiers of social status. They are also ageless companions. Now Kenyan art is joining the pack.

The art, wine, and cheese event was borrowed from the US where people converge to have wine and paint on canvas. The Fairview Hotel boss says they aim to create memorable experiences and avenues where art and culture blend.

“These wine pairings are a great opportunity to enjoy Kenyan art and explore the best grapes from different regions of the world,” he said.


So how does one ensure cheese complements wine? “We often think about cheese on a spectrum of intensity, with soft, mild fresh cheeses and robust, pungent aged wheels on the other. We can think about wines in the same way—and seek out pairings that complement each other well on that scale,” sas Dennis Mwangi, a sommelier.

Producing art comes naturally to Ms Katuti. She is a self-trained artist and has sharpened her mastery over the years.

“I didn’t study art, actually I dropped the subject in high school because I used to get bored. Sketching and painting came naturally to me,” she says, adding “but in new forms of art, I watch the very talented artists as they do it.”

One of the artists whose work she adores is David Shepherd, a British wildlife painter who created detailed, realistic depictions of endangered wildlife.

“I like the details in his art. It is art but realistic,” she says.

For an artist who has mastered different strokes of the paintbrush, does she have a favourite piece she has created?

“I have many favourites, it’s hard to choose, though I particularly enjoyed working on the ‘Children of Africa’ art piece. It’s a paper mosaic of two baby Zebras. It took me about a month to finish, and everyone loved it,” she says.

Showcasing her artwork, which she sells for Sh20,000 to Sh500,000, as guests taste and learn about different wines from Dion Wines and Spirits East Africa, is akin to painting.

Just like knowing your favourite wine through tasting and nosing from different regions and terroirs, some of Ms Katuti's artworks take months to come to life, others weeks.

“When painting, you keep working on artwork, keep touching it up with different strokes and paints, keep developing it, giving more details… Mostly, the end result turns out different from what I had visualised in the beginning,” she says.

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