msafiri 73 From an early age Richard Kimathi liked to draw and paint and was lucky enough to have an older brother who fed and lodged him for several years so he could continue painting while he studied graphic design. " I just wanted to do it, but I didn't have an idea it could lead to anything. Then I read a review of an art show in the Daily Nation, and I saw it could be a profession," said the 36- year- old. Ruth Schaffner bought three of his paintings, and he was on his way. At Kuona, Kimathi concentrated full time on his painting. His ideas came rushing out; often it looked as though he was working on several pictures at once. His oils were thick and layered, and his canvases were divided into compartments from which smaller paintings- within- paintings emerged. In 1997 he was named ' Most Promising Artist' in a national competition. Doing art in the lively, often boisterous group was " fun, but you never got time to think deeply about your work, and there was a tendency for a lot of the earlier Kuona paintings to look similar." After moving to a rented studio, he now works from home in Kiambu north of Nairobi. Kimathi's paintings have strong graphic lines and usually contain figures; but they are not always easy to read, " Most people question the subject of the Richard Kimathi painting; they want to know what it is. When I paint I sort of fantasise." Shades of dark blue and purple and men with round faces and black top hats feature prominently in his recent works. " I was trying to get something out of myself, trying to give people a picture of my deep feelings." Do his paintings have social significance? " All these paintings paint a picture of society, but they're not cartoons. Mine are sort of silent." I WAS TRYING TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF MYSELF, TRYING TO GIVE PEOPLE A PICTURE OF MY DEEP FEELINGS RICHARD KIMATHI
74 msafi ri PORTFOLIO THE INSPIRATION FOR Kamal Shah's painting and works in multimedia " comes from everywhere" but basically from his triple heritage in Africa, India and Europe. He was born in Kenya in 1953, graduated from Leeds University with a degree in literature and fi ne arts, then got a diploma in textile design. In Nairobi he has run an art gallery and an avant- garde multimedia workshop called Kichaka and paints in both Kenya and India. " The Indians necessarily fi nd African references in my work, and the Africans think they see Indian infl uences – often they're talking about the same thing," he said in his airy studio in the family compound in Parklands, Nairobi's traditional South Asian neighbourhood. Shah is best known for his multimedia panels done with layers of oil or acrylic paint, cowrie shells, papier NAIROBI ART CONTACTS KUONA TRUST Likoni Close ( off Likoni Lane off Denis Pritt Road) ? Tel: 0721 262326 / 0733 742752 ? www. kuonatrust. org THE GODOWN ARTS CENTRE Dunga Road in Industrial Area ? Tel: 555 227/ 555 770 ? info@ thegodownartscentre. com RAMOMA GALLERY 2nd Parklands Avenue ? Tel: 374 8618 ? ramoma@ africaonline. co. ke Kamal Shah OTHERS WILL EXPERIMENT, AND I HOPE I AM ONE OF THOSE. I HOPE I HAVEN'T COME TO THE END OF MY LEARNING PROCESS KAMAL SHAH maché and other bits and pieces, but at the same time he is trying to separate this work from what he calls his " less- detailed and more spiritual" painting. " The process of working has become very different; it's a meditative process rather than a specifi c one – more abstract and universal. My earlier paintings were so bright and colourful I'm actually embarrassed. I'm getting subtler." He loves to plunge into the evolving Nairobi art scene. " There are new aspects, newer angles, but some artists can get stuck. Others will experiment, and I hope I'm one of those. I hope I haven't come to the end of my learning process. I have dabbled in sculpture, now I'm including some papier maché. I have a secret plaster recipe, but even it is changing." " For me painting is not a 9- to- 5 job; I work all the time. At the end of the day if there's paint on the palette, I do a little more; I am always very reluctant to throw anything away."