Ugandan artist Jude Kassaga is a great fan of the Dutch master Vincent van Gogh. Like his idol, he says he is a methodical painter.
“Every element in my work is something I have thought out carefully and developed with time,” he said.
A selection of his portraits of women are on display at Karen Country Club in Nairobi. He has been drawing since childhood, at the encouragement of his art-loving parents, and studied Kyambogo University in Uganda.
In his paintings, the faces have abnormally large eyes in proportion to their faces, long noses and small lips. They gaze unabashedly at the viewer.
Oversize eyes are common in children’s cartoon characters, a technique used to enhance the sense of innocence and dependence.
Kassaga, who was once a children’s book illustrator, uses over-sized eyes to express emotions. “The first things I learned to draw well in human anatomy were the eyes; they communicate volumes,” he said.
Subtly flirtatious, Kassaga’s ladies fill the canvas frame and arouse curiosity about the message they are trying to pass. Painted in acrylics, against backgrounds of primary colours, they are all untitled, which adds to the mystery.
In one painting, a lady in a red dress, with long hair and large eyes looks seductively over one shoulder. Kassaga used palette knives to apply layers of thick paint to her broad cheeks and highlighted tresses, smudging in colours and scribbling in lines because, he says, “It gives my work life just the way I dream it.”
Yellow overtones dominate the painting of two women with their foreheads touching, giving it a light-hearted feel. Yet their pursed pink lips and large, liquid eyes suggest something less innocent.
“I love to evoke emotions through expressions and colour moods,” says Kassaga.
Something has caught the attention of the lady in a headwrap, eyes looking aside, a smile playing on her lips. Light sparkles in her big dark eyes and she wears a white stud earring, evoking the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring painting by Johannes Vermeer.
Kassaga occasionally paints on plywood, creates glass mosaic or dabbles in digital cartoon art “just for fun.” His works can be seen at Java House restaurants in Kampala, and at his studio in Kitemu in central Uganda.