Capturing Nairobi city by night

Saturday January 6 2018

Harambee Avenue, by Jimmy Kitheka. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG

Harambee Avenue, by Jimmy Kitheka. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG 

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Artist Jimmy Kitheka has stepped into the dark realm of limited colour palettes with a set of night images.

He says that streets and urban settings at night are so commonplace that everyone ignores them. “I aim to capture small glimpses that people can relate to.”

Nairobi Afrinights is a series of semi-realistic paintings that fulfils this intent. One illustration is of a white, pickup car driving past warm city lights. The scene is framed by ragged edges that create a sense of spontaneity, with thin vertical and horizontal lines in the foreground stabilising the scene.

The picture Harambee Avenue is of light beams from street lamps, and cars in the receding horizon line are shining into the inky darkness and wet ground. Pale, curvy lines slashed across the picture add fluidity to the otherwise rigid objects.

With time one would hope to see Kitheka’s night scenes developed in terms of bringing out more of the subtleties that show up after dark, the mood of a scene, the night sky, or the effect of natural moonlight shining on objects, similar to the style of the nostalgic urban paintings by the late South African artist Don Madge.

Kitheka, who is self-taught and has tutored with Patrick Mukabi, says much of his inspiration comes from his memories and that he is especially drawn to classic or vintage objects.

Away from night scenes, Tuk Tuk is an oil painting of the three-wheeled automated transport vehicle, whereas Taa Taa is an image of an oil-based hurricane lamp.

These are typical objects you find in East Africa. Kitheka paints them on grey and black backgrounds with his signature ragged-edged outline. The objects are well captured, but it would be interesting to have more context and to infuse the illustrations with greater meaning beyond the obvious.

Other frequent subjects in his works are old or classic cars from the last century. Kitheka recently exhibited at the Polka Dot Gallery in Nairobi. His work can be seen at his art studio located at the Dust Depot in the Nairobi Railway Museum.