ART: Animal portraits come alive in monochrome

Saturday October 19 2019

Warthogs by Suki Darnborough-

'Warthogs' by Suki Darnborough. PHOTO | KARI MUTU | NMG 

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Suki Darnborough started her art journey after getting six art classes for her 30th birthday. She paints meticulous yet expressive wildlife images in black and white with mostly plain backgrounds.

“I paint in monochrome as it adds to the quality of the sketches while adding to the feeling of movement and speed,” said Darnborough, who draws from photographs.

Her realism and partly expressionist acrylic paintings also capture subtle moments, light and shadows.

A delightful black and white painting shows a warthog with her two piglets trotting away. Their upright tails, tense muscles and bulging veins enhance the anxious feeling of the scene. In another painting, a zebra is rolling on the ground on its back on a sunny day looking quite content.

Several of her wildlife paintings show the backsides of animals as they move away from the viewer, like two elephants walking closely together in the opposite direction.

“I felt this was a truer reflection of what one sees in the wild,” says the Kenyan-based artist.


Darnborough’s paintings are also executed with fine precision such as Giraffe, a half portrait of the wild animal from the rear, peaking over its shoulder.

The patchwork of the animal’s coat pattern is methodically accomplished in grey and pale brown colours. Another picture has a whistling thorn branch, the bulbs and thorns neatly presented on white canvas. It is appealing in its simplicity.

I was drawn to Chameleon, which shows the reptile’s head painted in white on a black background. With rough skin and a grim mouth, the chameleon almost resembles a crotchety old man.

Darnborough sometimes paints on hessian-coloured linen canvas “to give a beautifully textured background.”

But I find it also softens the subject in the portrait. Her still life images of fruits are done in colour. An illustration of three blood-red pomegranates, one fruit split open with seeds spilling out, looks succulent enough to eat.

Her coastal scenes are also in colour, featuring azure blue oceans, cream-coloured beaches, and plenty of warm sunlight in the scenes.

Darnborough often exhibits at Nairobi’s Polk Dot Gallery and a selection of her work is showing at the Karen Country Club in Nairobi.