ICRAF is world-renowned as the one and only United Nations agency that focuses on agro-forestry. The acronym is short of the World Agro-Forestry Centre in French and it has played an important role educating the public about the vital role of public participation in the fight against deforestation and the implicit value of tree planting.
But up until now, we haven’t seen ICRAF advancing their mandate and message through the visual arts. That changed recently when the Centre’s managing director Dr Tony Simons sponsored a beautiful painting exhibition filled with lush green trees and local Kenyan landscapes.
Entitled ‘Celebrating Rural Lives and Landscapes’, the exhibition opened November 14 at the ICRAF assembly hall. Not a venue widely known as a perfect setting for Kenyan painters, the hall nonetheless attracted hard-core fans of Patrick Kinuthia and James Njoroge.
One a painter better known for his lovely multi-coloured portraits of young Kenyan women coming from all over Kenya than for his landscapes, the other is a collage artist who ‘paints’ with scraps of paper be they newspaper or magazine paper, glossy or flat.
James’ collage art has previously grabbed our attention because he primarily has ‘painted’ social protest imagery that has had a powerful emotive impact. Yet both artists have willingly responded to Dr Simons’ request to readjust their art to have immediate relevance to ICRAF.
That was easy for both artists since both have painted rural life and landscapes in the past. I first saw Kinuthia’s landscapes in Lamu when he attended last year’s Lamu Painters Festival. I also saw Njoroge’s paintings of rural lifestyles. Specifically, his painting has won a runners’ up award during the National Museum of Kenya’s annual art competition for Kenyan painters under 25 years of age.
But both artists have excelled and improved their artistic techniques visibly since that time. Njoroge has changed his main medium of work as well as his genre from acrylic on canvas to paper collage. And Kinuthia has recognised that as popular as his Kenyan beauties have become (he’s found they sell like hot cakes to both expatriates and local Kenyans), his affinity for landscape painting is also popular.
Personally, I feel Kinuthia has the potential for becoming Kenya’s leading landscape artist, bar none. He’s one who I could conceivably compare to Britain’s John Constable, Holland’s Vincent van Gogh, and America’s Andrew Wyeth. That assessment might be premature, but one needs to see his landscapes for one’s self to appreciate the potential of this important young Kenyan artist.
And even Njoroge has a knack for blending scrap paper into images of rural life that have immense appeal. His collage paintings run from KSh28000 to KSh95000. Meanwhile, although Kinuthia is a more well established artist who’s been painting since high school, prices his landscapes slightly higher, but still they don’t exceed ksh100,000.
My own view is that the art of both Kinuthia and Njoroge is going to accrue in value before very long. That is why anyone who appreciates Kenyan art for its investment potential can‘t go wrong buying art by either Kinuthia or Njoroge or both.