Paris-based Evans Mbugua is unashamedly joyful about life. He illustrates that joy, what he calls his ‘zest for life’, through his art.
He has no time for cynicism or negativity since he is too busy embracing life’s beauty and expressing it through various art forms and techniques.
A few of those forms converge in the portraits on display currently at Circle Art Gallery in Nairobi where he is sharing exhibition space with Nigerian painter Dennis Osadebe in a show entitled ‘A Spectacular Now’.
The two artists are quite different in their approach to painting. But by curatorial coincidence, their colour palettes complement one another exceptionally well.
Dennis paints modern interiors in a style that reminds me vaguely of the British painter David Hockney. On the other hand, Hockney doesn’t paint walls that are a deep dazzling royal blue. Nor do his interiors include floors that are a richly pastel pink. But both artists paint home interiors in a minimalist style.
Evans on the other hand paints faces that are open, accessible and seemingly familiar, much like the artist himself.
This show includes only artworks that he has conceived since November when he came back home. His portraits are of family and close friends.
But it’s the woman with a sunflower in her hair, a fan in hand, hot pink lipstick and wearing his signature designer glasses that I find most striking. Perhaps that is because I had just met his mother and knew instantly this was her lovely portrait. It also illustrated his inclination to amplify the beautiful features of his models.
He does the same in his one self-portrait in the show. Only he beautifies his ‘Selfie Sunny’ by covering most of his face with a giant sunflower that draws your eyes away from the artist and into the pink and blue pointillist interior of the flower.
All Evans’ portraits at Circle share the same set of techniques, namely photography, digital art and oil painting. Using various ideographs or digitised images drawn from everyday life that he repeats geometrically on paper as a print background, Evans then covers each print with a smooth layer of perspex (thin acrylic glass) on which he finally paints portraits in oils.
Evans moved to Paris when he was barely 20 years in 1999. But he had an idea of what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. Having taken a single semester of French at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi, he mastered the language soon enough, attended art school and then became both an artist and designer.
He has done everything from graphic design and advertising work to fashion design and exhibiting everywhere from the Gallery of African Art (GAFRA) in the UK to assorted upmarket galleries in France, Spain, Germany and Nigeria.
But one of the most incredible opportunities was his commission from the luxury French jewellery brand, Chaumet to design an entire high-end collection of Africa-inspired jewellery which they entitled ‘Tresors d’Afrique.’
Designing brooches, necklaces, earrings, bracelets and even watches which Chaumet set in diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, opals and gold, Evans easily rose to the challenge. Chaumet had already commissioned designers to create collections inspired by imperial Russia and Japan in Spring under the umbrella of “Les Mondes de Chaumet” (The Worlds of Chaumet).
But it was only after meeting Evans and seeing his art that they selected sub-Saharan Africa as the final ‘destination of their campaign. Simultaneously, they invited him to create the ‘Tresors d’Afrique’ collection.
Each piece in the line is made with precious gemstones. Each stands singularly as an unabashed symbol of wealth and status. It was fitting then for super-models Naomi Campbell, Natalia Vodianova and Liya Kebede to arrive at Evans’ collection launch wearing his jewellery.
Too bad he did not bring any of it home to Kenya to include in his Circle Art show. But his paintings have a dazzling effect in their own way.
‘A Spectacular Now’ runs until February 16.