The semi-lockdown (oh no, not that again!) has caused some artists to reconsider their direction, to experiment with different media and to develop in ways suited to a new, home-based practice.
Kenyan Jeffie Magina for example has turned from paintings and prints to small sculptures, using stone he finds around his compound in Nairobi’s Umoja l estate.
His move to a home studio — his garden shed — followed not only the anti-Covid measures and a general reluctance to travel even when permitted within the city, but the coincidental closure of his Soku art centre in railway workers’ cottages within the South B estate… an unfortunately common story of not enough collective sales to meet the rent. It is a pity it has gone. The free mentoring programme established there helped many young artists to acquire some of the basic skills in drawing, painting and print.
Magina was at the forefront of this — and if the need to change base were not inspiration enough for him to extend his range, then his own name, Magina, curiously enough, means ‘stone’ in his mother tongue giving, as he put it, a certain inevitability to his increasing interest in sculpture.
Among his first essays was a study in what is commonly known as Ruiru stone (a form of pumice; reasonably soft and easy to work, it can even be filed) of the distinctive virus itself, the familiar ball with soft spikes, rather like a Christmas orange studded with nutmegs.
That done, sterner stuff was on the way.
He has made, for example, a female torso of a balance and beauty that is frankly astonishing for someone new to carving.
Called Eve, its subtle curves and realistic details — one breast a little larger than the other, which itself hangs slightly lower; an angled abdomen that hints at childbirth — speak of prolonged and searching observation.
The obvious jokes aside, surely the skill to translate such scrutiny into credible form is exactly the stuff of high quality art.
He next produced a head, this time from a harder stone again found lying near his house, in which the smooth face contrasts with the volumes of the model’s hair braided into rough ropes that encircle the head. Again, in what he has called Head of Jane Doe, there is a well observed (and courageous) human touch; one eye set at a different angle and level to the other.
Clever design, sound technique, pleasing result.
If Magina can maintain this painstaking observation and realise pieces through such meticulous execution, he will become a sculptor to be reckoned with.
The temptation must be to speed up, believing he has cracked the technique, but to fall into that trap would be fatal for his development. It is an impulse he must have the courage to resist.
Persistence beats a flash of genius any day.
Meanwhile, congratulations go to one enterprising artist who is determined to keep art in the public eye.
He has shrugged off gallery closures to take his work straight to the people, out on the street.
With framed woodcut prints placed on easels metres apart along the roadside to ensure social distancing, George Ongeri Omesa is holding Sunday exhibitions from 10am to 4pm.
On show at the first of them were 15 of his bold prints, mostly black and white but with a few enriched with a sonorous Indian red and one a multi-coloured presentation in the style of the man who taught him, John Kamau, alias John Silver, of the Kuona Trust in Nairobi.
Notable were several dynamic prints of bulls — typified by his Courage series and the powerful Nyamgombenyinge Star (one of many cows) — which demonstrated that Omesa is getting the fundamental drawing right; preferable for me at least to his more surreal efforts of people morphing into trees, demonstrating the close relationship between humans and nature and how that affects our thinking.
With his studio a roadside kiosk in the upmarket Nairobi suburb of Loresho, it was a comparatively simple matter for Omesa to create an exhibition that stretched out along both sides of Loresho Ridge near its junction with Kaptagat Road.
Encouraged by the support of the local community and the interest shown from passers-by on foot, cycle and in cars, he is now planning to make it a regular event, expanded to include other artists interested in taking their work directly to the public.