GALLERIES: Dial-a-pic plan keeps artists in the frame…

Thursday May 7 2020

‘Art of Jazz’ by Kathy Katuti. PHOTO | FRANK

‘Art of Jazz’ by Kathy Katuti. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NMG 

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You would think that in the time of Corona, artists are having a hard time.

Galleries closed except by private invitation, open studio days cancelled or at best postponed, interactions and gatherings discouraged, social distancing and face masks throughout the land.

And of course a shortage of buyers as people are furloughed or have their salaries slashed and an uncertain future to face.

However, one solution to all this these woes that is proving to be increasingly successful is putting the artists’ wares online.

Among pioneers in this were Veronica Dura who started her Nairobi-based web gallery Gravitart three years ago, plus those enterprising artists who positioned themselves on Artsy and Saatchi Art or started selling through Instagram and Facebook.

The One-Off Gallery and the Circle, both in Nairobi, were quick to focus on exhibiting online, once it became clear that gallery gatherings were to be no more, at least for now.


And then came the entrepreneurial William Ndwiga of The Little Art Gallery.

Also based in Nairobi he had started by taking painting to people’s homes, setting up exhibitions in their gardens and inviting their friends and neighbours in for a look and a drink.

Then he changed his peripatetic model to open a couple of static galleries, one in a Kisumu mall, the other in Karen, Nairobi. Rents and insufficient sales took their toll, so he tried exhibiting in hotel lobbies but that has now been blocked by the gatherings ban.

So, putting his marketing degree into practice, he hit on a new and even more personal approach…contacting clients directly by phone through WhatsApp and appealing to them to support artists in these tricky times.

He started last month with a rota of 12 artists to be shown at the rate of one a week with selections of their work sent directly to the WhatsApp accounts of the 400 or so gallery (and garden) goers on his list.

Like all good gallery owners, he makes a purchase as painless as possible, offering 20 per cent off for paying upfront, or instalments of up to a year.

If your readies are not ready, then you can reserve any work for a 10 per cent deposit.

As a clincher he promises to deliver the piece personally, to “fumigate on site” — not sure what that means, do the paintings arrive already infected? — and even hang the painting in the optimum spot.

You have to hand it to the man; he is offering a service.

As he put it in his sales pitch, “These are indeed trying times. But we need to survive them. Our artists will only do that if we don't postpone spending.”

First up on his rota were Kathy Katuti and Haji Chilonga, both of whom are diligent recorders who set out what they see around them. At root they make furnishing paintings, professional in their handling of paint, use of colour, composition and with forms underpinned by generally sound drawing.

Their intentions are simple and modest; to give pleasure while making a living — and in this they succeed.

Kathy Katuti, based in Nairobi, revels in a bright palette and uses what she describes as ‘fantasy colours’ to express her feelings about people, culture, music and wildlife.

Typical of her work is Art of Jazz, showing a trumpeter emerging from the darkness of the stage, lit by a flurry of colours that sparkle like a shower of sparks.

Haji Chilonga, based in Dar, is a self-taught artist whose workmanlike approach to people, streets, market scenes and the occasional lurid landscape has earned him exhibitions throughout Africa plus forays into Europe, the UK and the United States.

Soft entry

Both artists provide a soft entry into art with bright, reasonably realistic works that would add cheer to anyone’s home.

And business would seem to be brisk, as art lovers answer Ndwiga’s siren call.

Four of Katuti’s ten paintings sold within hours of being offered with a further three reserved, while of Chilonga’s 20 works five sold quickly and retro sales negotiations on others continue apace.

Storied painters lined up for Ndwiga’s weekly spotlight include Emily Odongo, whose new, delicate abstracts make her one of the most stylish painters in the region, the widely exhibited Anne Mwiti and the acclaimed travel artist Sophie Walbeoffe plus one of Uganda’s finest painters, Jjuuko Hoods.

If you are not already on Ndwiga’s hit list, you can contact him on Facebook at Little Gallery Nairobi and then by WhatsApp.

This time he might just be onto a winner.