James Mbuthia is a quiet, peaceful man. A pastor in fact. Yet as a painter, his artwork eloquently conveys an idyllic beauty that’s only to be found deep in the rural areas of the Kenyan countryside.
That is where Mbuthia has ‘Conversations in Silence’ that one can currently hear or rather see at One Off Gallery in Roselyn. The artist paints a picturesque vision of pastoral landscapes and lovers nestled into the green fields that tend to be rolling, and either terraced or adjacent to river banks.
James paints beautiful people who are clearly coming out of his warm imagination since they are invariably multicoloured, never simply brown, black or pink. He’s a master at making transnational beings who transcend national boundaries and ethnic variations. That’s because he truly has transcended issues of ethnic strife in his own head and instead concentrates on using his art to share messages of hope, enlightenment and healing.
James worked for years as a backbone back-up man at RaMoMa Gallery where he’d been hired to work closely with local artists and also to bring a select few with him to work with terminally ill children at several Nairobi Hospital.
RaMoMa has sadly disappeared, leaving One Off Gallery in its wake. But James is still going to the hospitals every day to offer art classes and hope to small children who are blessed with the new knowledge that they too have art in them, a lesson they learn from James and the other Kenyan artists who accompany him.
James is said to have a peculiar and rare condition, the name of which I never recall. But it’s all about his sensory experience and the transposition of hearing, seeing and feeling. For instance, James says one reason he loves to venture into spaces where lots of birds reside is because he enjoys their birdsongs and especially likes to translate the songs into colours and whole paintings.
Whatever that condition may be, it works well for the artist who apparently paints exactly what he feels, which is more surreal that super-real or even fantasy.
However he works and is able to put paints to canvas, it’s masterful and visually melodious certainly. It’s true that there’s a sense of harmony to his art which leads some critics to say he paints hues of happiness, which I’d concur with.
There was just one peculiar problem on the opening afternoon of James’s exhibition. It was that one apparently needed to get to One Off early in order to see the glorious art that he’d produced over the past two years. Otherwise, several art lovers showed up and claimed that had to take their selections of his paintings straight away. They couldn’t even wait for the opening day of the show to end as they “had a plane to catch.” It meant that One Off’s Carol Lees didn’t have a moment to rest since she’d never let an empty wall last for long, especially on such a special day. So Carol and her assistant had lots of hanging, wrapping and rehanging to do for James’ glorious show.
But there was even a problem for the early birds who couldn’t stay all day since Carol brought out paintings that hadn’t originally fit into her brand new pearly white studio space before the walls went bare (due to those determined departing buyers). So the late comers got to see a whole other exhibition. Of course, nobody was complaining, except for maybe me!
But fortunately, I was on hand to see some of the latter works that quickly got hung and which somehow seemed even more appealing than the ones now gone.
One had better get over to James’ show before it’s gone at the month’s end, or rather when Carol hangs her next exhibition which will be of the art of Timothy Brooke if I’m not wrong.