Minimal drawings that still reveal a maximum of talent

Monday December 21 2009

By FRANK WHALLEY

With a few deft strokes of his pen, Timothy Brooke records the things he loves.

And among them, should you doubt it, is a pair of trout he caught in north Mathioya in the Aberdares.

So pleased was he with his catch and the beguiling beauty of it, that he put down his rod and drew them there and then.

This lyrical, romantic work is on the wall at the RaMoMA where Brooke is holding a solo show of some 40 drawings and watercolours.

It’s probably as good as anything there.

The reds and silvery blues of the bodies shimmer; there is a sense of weight and slippery wetness about the trout, one with gravid belly, their eyes glazed, mouths open for a final gasp of air.

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The instrument of their destruction is there too, with the suggestion of the cork handle of the rod and the metallic ring of the reel conveyed with rapid wash.

It is a better self portrait than if he had sat for himself in front of a mirror.

It tells you more about the man, his interests, his abilities — and an artist’s relentless focus — than any picture of a weatherbeaten face with its knowing eyes.

I should think it took Brooke longer to land the fish than it did to complete the drawing. But dashed off, at speed, on the spot, it is absolutely, 100 per cent dead right.

Simple and classic

And that is what makes Brooke such a fine artist. He gets it right. The bones of every scene are there.

Like the modern masters, his underlying structure is in place, no matter how reductive the drawing.

And Brooke can be extremely reductive.

His best drawings for me are those in which the subject is pared down to a minimal line, often redrawn, disjointed, indicating the movement of his subject.

He captures the moment, yes, but he also layers a sense of time, no matter how fleeting, into his work.

It is when Brooke is struggling towards a resolution of his subject’s shape, weight and volume that I find him at his best.

For me, he is less exciting when working within his comfort zone … capturing, for instance, the changing moods of Mt Kenya in a series of watercolours completed at sunrise.

Want to see the drawings that send out a spark?

They are generally what at first sight are his slightest works … just a tough, questing line: In fact the most reductive of all.

In this show they include the trout, and a drawing in red crayon of the artist’s wife and sister lying on beach towels.

Then there is one of the artist’s daughter Rebecca, playing a flute, the exquisite Shipbuilder at Tiwi where the dislocation of line adds depth and a cubist understanding of the hull, plus two drawings from Old Town, Mombasa: One outside a mosque where Brooke plays with light and shade, called Shoes and Mosque; the other, a resonant look into a stairwell, the sonorous black of a shrouded woman counterbalanced by a mesh of inquisitive lines, searching…defining …

Oh yes, and there is a languid nude caught by a soft wash, and a spiky brush sketch called Palm Trees Tiwi.

These for me are the pick of the show. But there are other delights to be found. One is a straightforward drawing of the two cannon outside Fort Jesus.

You can sense their solidity.

Another is his celebration of tone in a view of the old Customs House under searchlights.

And then there is a woman’s torso in which the naked body is heavily scored by a series of brusque oblique lines.

It seems to have been scribbled in a hurry. But there is not one mark out of place, and every line adds life — energy — to the drawing.

To any artist reading this I would only add: Go see — it’s a masterclass.

Frank Whalley runs Lenga Juu, a fine arts consultancy based in Nairobi. Email: [email protected]