Painter who forgot to retire

Robarts with one of her paintings. PHOTO | COURTESY
Robarts with one of her paintings. PHOTO | COURTESY 

The only inkling of age that one can see amidst the paintings and the painter Geraldine Robarts (who just opened a brand new studio space at her Karen home) is in a big bowl filled with used brushes situated in her metal container-studio (which is just next door to her new studio).

“Some of those brushes are well over 50 years old, since I never threw one of them away,” says the 78-year-old artist who’s just as energised about the painting process today as she was as a child when her grannie (an artist and fashion designer) gave her favourite granddaughter her first paint brush many decades ago.

In fact, Geraldine paints practically non-stop every day, from mid-morning through to late afternoon and sometimes into the night. Painting in oils on everything from small cardboard papers to massive stretched canvases, (the sort that fit well into the new studio), she’s currently working in an abstract expressionist frame of mind.

One of Geraldine’s paintings at Lazizi Hotel at JKIA. PHOTO | COURTESY

One of Geraldine’s paintings at Lazizi Hotel at JKIA. PHOTO | COURTESY

Fine art

But having taught fine art for many years, both at Makerere University in Uganda and Kenyatta University, she knows and has taught her students all sorts of styles, genres and techniques of painting. Ever the experimentalist, her latest challenge (apart from creating a perfect studio meant to satisfy most of her artistic needs, such as for a high ceiling and lots of windows to give her natural light) has been doing something artistically interesting with her old brushes.

“I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so I thought it might be fun to create a series of works that included a brush or two on each canvas,” said the artist who now treats her old brushes as aesthetic ingredients in her latest phase of abstract art.

People who know her won’t be shocked to hear Geraldine literally sticks paint brushes onto the centre of one series of her paintings.

She’s included even more unconventional items than brushes in her art in the past.

For instance, sometime back she carefully blended a batch of hardened giraffe droppings onto the six foot tall ‘Giraffe’ painting that she displayed in the new studio on the day of its official opening, last Thursday.

Some of Geraldine Robarts paintings. PHOTO | COURTESY

Some of Geraldine Robarts paintings. PHOTO | COURTESY

“I’d wanted to help with fund-raising for the Giraffe Centre back in the 1970s when the late Betty Leslie-Melville was trying to sustain the life of the Rothschild giraffes,” recalls Geraldine.

“So as I’d already been collecting the dropping, I suggested to Betty that we coat them in resin, create attractive pendants out of them and sell them at her big New York City gala fundraiser for $1,000 apiece, which is what she did.”

And that ingenious initiative helped to keep the Giraffe Centre alive up to the present day when it still serves as an active tourist attraction in Nairobi.


Since Geraldine had remained with a few of those resin-coated droppings, it apparently seemed appropriate to her to include them in the work that she created jointly with the Kenya-born wildlife photographer Anthony Russell.

So her inclusion of paint brushes in her art seems no less unusual than selling giraffe turds for charity.

What was surprising, however, was that visitors who came to the opening of her new studio also got a grand tour of much of Geraldine’s home.

That’s because virtually all the walls inside and outside the house are covered with colourful abstract and semi-abstract works.

Yet if one didn’t get a chance to attend the opening of Geraldine’s new ‘art space’, one has only to stop by the new Lazizi Hotel, (the first located literally inside the airport) to see her colourful paintings.