Come up and see Kimathi some time

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Posted  Friday, February 1   2013 at  14:11

In Summary

  • Kimathi is a great one for themed exhibitions… not ones simply bound by a title, which is the usual thing, but ones in which each painting resonates against the next, offering insight each to the other.

The late, great actress Mae West, she of the suggestive shoulders and outrageous wiggle, had a nice way with a louche one-liner. “Come up and see me some time,” delivered with an oh-so-broad wink, was just the start of it.

Another one that left audiences helpless was: “Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” It came from the 1933 film She Done Him Wrong, in which she starred with Cary Grant.

The seductive Ms West would have enjoyed Richard Kimathi’s current exhibition at the One-Off garden gallery in Rosslyn, Nairobi.

There Kimathi, an artist of unfailing intelligence, offers three paintings of men who each have a pistol for a penis. It brings a whole new meaning to shoot to kill.

In one, a man stands alone, in another two men huddle together and in the third a man stands next to a naked woman. In all three, the poses are hunched and diffident, the pistols painted strikingly white against grey flesh. In muted tones the figures stand sentinel over our vanities.

Kimathi’s comment on male insecurity unsuccessfully masked by aggression could not have been better timed.

It comes as President Barack Obama battles the American firearms lobby to bring some sense to that country’s crazy gun laws and hopefully forestall another mass murder.

Yet curiously Kimathi completed the series just three weeks before the latest shooting sprees began with the Batman cinema massacre in Colorado, in July 2012.

Who dares say that artists do not have some sort of sixth sense that foretells disaster? And who dares deny that, as Oscar Wilde put it, life imitates art?

The other six paintings in this show deal with the ambiguities of ageing and the social pressures on our children, particularly teenage daughters. They give the show its name: Little Dresses.

Each picture is of one or two girls, perhaps in their early teens — not exactly children, not yet women — wearing similar white shift dresses, little ankle socks and shoes.

They do not wear make up and their expressions are neutral, hard to read, even though mostly they stare straight back at the viewer with glittering eyes.

The girls stand just like young teens, slightly self-conscious, one with her legs crossed, too aware of themselves.

The girl in Yellow Rings has two piglets at her feet — the obsession with pets, the weirder the better, that marks our childhoods — while another, in Crossed, twiddles a pair of glasses with bright yellow lenses. Their colour matches her cute little socks.

Now look again.

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