Patrick Mukabi is Kenya’s Lucian Freud. A man who has carved his own niche, Mukabi towers over the rest with his nude art. That way, he has remained relevant in the market and retained his name in the virgin territory locally.
After several years of dominating the nude art scene, Mukabi is now working to instil the skills he has acquired over time to budding artists.
His primary objective, he says, is to bring change in an industry that seems stuck with old fashioned styles, adding that time is ripe to confront the conservative barriers.
“Local schools are a bit reserved and when I am carrying out the lessons, in some instances we are forced to bear a letter of approval from the parents,” said Mukabi.
Mukabi, who is self-taught, has been painting for 17 years, changing from traditional styles to focus on nudes in 2008. His bold pieces feature full-figured nudes, some of which are drawn to pixel-point detail.
The only Kenyan artist doing nude artwork for a living, Mukabi says he is not about to change or bend his style to gain the approval of those who regard his work as provocative.
Instead, he is looking for a bigger audience by sharing his wealth of knowledge with students from colleges in the United States, Denmark and around Africa.
Brookhouse and Hillcrest International are some of the local educational institutions whose students he actively engages with. He coaches private groups, too.
His training sessions are conducted in phases, beginning with a one-minute pose lessons where students learn how to make sketches. Gradually, the lessons advance to carving out body features using brushes.
In his class, students go through 20 lessons before being proclaimed skilled full-figure painters. But Mukabi says it takes continuous practice to stand out for a course that private students pay Sh1,200 per lesson.
Why nude art?
In his adventure to capture the positive side of the life of fleshy women, Mukabi decided to start drawing nude portraits to appreciate them.
Full-figured women, according to him, do not receive as much attention as their leaner counterparts, and that is why at his Godown Arts Centre studio all lights are on them.
Mukabi says his style and themes are critical to the art industry because it employs both creative and critical thinking.
“By training my students to think critically and creatively they are able to act reactively, enabling them to solve every day societal problems with ease,” he adds. In every session, there is a model, who, depending on the level of class, is either completely or partially naked.
“Models are not required to stay still for a long time, but it is important for them to remain confident and relaxed because this allows the students to work with ease,” he said.
The exercise begins with a 45-minute session which entails sketching the body’s outline before further details are inscribed.
A full session requires the models to disjointedly strike a pose for four to six hours.
Having practised figure drawing for six years, Mukabi acknowledges that it is increasingly becoming a practical profession in Kenya.
The price of a painting ranges from Sh90,000 to Sh120,000. Where models are hired to pose, they are paid Sh1,000 per hour and a 12 per cent commission on the sale price.
The local market is also getting familiar with the style, albeit gradually as most of his clients are foreigners. However, a number of seasoned artists are reluctant to join the bandwagon as they perceive the style as foreign and outlandish.
“Not painting nude is one of my personal ethics because I believe that a nude portrait should not be displayed in public for sale. If I were to paint a nude portrait it would only be of the backside of my wife’s body,” said Shaka.
However, Margaretta wa Gacheru, an art critic, says “fundamentalists of any religion will always censor nude painting... because they see everything nude as dirty. Such people are not able to see the beauty form of nude paintings.”
Dr Wa Gacheru said changing the perspective “will take a while” in Kenya.