Santa comes with a sackful of fun…

Saturday December 22 2018

Bull, by Evans Ngure.

'Bull' by Evans Ngure. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NMG 

By FRANK WHALLEY
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The trick in selecting a mixed Christmas exhibition is to ensure there is something for everyone and that the prices are kept as low as possible, with perhaps one or two more expensive pieces to salt the stew.

After all, there are those who find a high price reassuring. They take it to be a guarantee of quality.

It isn’t of course, but there you are. In fact the finest things in one current Christmas show are also by far the cheapest…but more of that in a minute.

With Christmas approaching faster than Santa’s sled, Lara Ray at the Polka Dot in Karen took a slightly different tack to her gallery’s seasonal show, holding two exhibitions side by side with each aimed at a different sort of customer.

First there is the general Christmas show featuring paintings, prints and jewellery, with prices ranging from $7 to $1,700.

Recycled

And then there is an exhibition targeting customers who might like the idea of doing a little extra good with their dollar by choosing something made from objects found and recycled.

It’s called Re-Found, with prices ranging from $35 to $1,800.

Christmas first, and the $7 gifts are cute little earrings made from the dangly handles of zip fasteners by the artist Evans Ngure.

They could just as easily fit into the Re-Found category, where Ngure shines with a couple of gems of wall sculptures.

Dearest in Christmas at $1,700 is a large painting of two horses by Patrick Kinuthia.

With their thin heads and flared nostrils they look like thoroughbreds and should appeal to Karen collectors given their proximity to the Nairobi racecourse.

Come to think of it, I could imagine an exhibition centred on the racecourse, with the crowds, the horses, the silks of the jockeys, a peep behind the scenes and all the colour and excitement of a day at the races. It is the sort of thing that Timothy Brooke would do exceedingly well.

Next to the horses is a black and white painting of a rhino, acrylic on canvas, tolerably well done by Dambe Ismael.

But far better is his large elephant’s head nearby, the tusker apparently spot lit and starting dangerously towards us out of the black background. A cliché, it’s true, but at least a well executed one.

New to me was a group of six small photographs of assorted wildlife by the Californian Chris Dei.

On gold leaf and presented in large black mounts they were unusual, highly commercial and very professional.

More familiar and equally expert was an etching by Wycliffe Opondo looking along the railway line through Kibera, while Rogan Anjili offered a couple of etchings of people clinging to their traditional lifestyles.

Anne Mwiti, a Polka Dot regular, presented a group of small paintings inspired by visits to Lang’ata Women’s Prison, where she is planning a series of workshops, while nearby Patrick Karanja’s postcard sized watercolours of street scenes showed a thorough grasp of that medium’s potential.

Twelve small land and seascapes by Ismael Kataregga (one for each day of Christmas?) sat well in this company, and Yony Waite surprised me with the confidence of her line in three pencil and ink drawings — one of a couple on sun loungers being delightfully spare and effective.

Another seasoned professional, Sophie Walbeoffe, is showing two large silkscreen prints that were then hand coloured; one of 40 figures typical of those you could see on any walk through town, the other of wildlife arranged neatly in rows.

Daffodils by Mik Cameron

'Daffodils' by Mik Cameron. PHOTO | FRANK WHALLEY | NMG

A stained glass panel of Christ by Florence Wangui struck an incongruous note.

Beautifully made but surely the Crown of Thorns and the Cross indicated the initial tragedy of Easter rather than Christmas cheer.

From Re-Found, inventiveness was the order of the day.

Bertiers made a model matatu from scrap metal, and Lionel Garang projected his love of old cars by painting them on discarded gunny sacks.

Dearest
Most expensive was a montage by Njogu Kuria made of bits of old vinyl LPs and called Rebel Woman for what might be a record $1,800.

An enormous photo-collage by Wallace Juma that recreated the Dandora dump warned of rampant consumerism and waste, while our jewellery maker and artist Evans Ngure excelled with Lady Luck, a 3-D ladybird based on a worker’s helmet and Bull, the head fashioned from a bicycle saddle, even though Picasso got there first.

In this bull, however, the horns were made not from the handlebars, like Picasso’s, but ingeniously from a hacksaw.

Stars of the show for me, however, were a group of small sculptures made from discarded flip-flops.

Daffodils, snowdrops (at only $35, easily the best value in the gallery) an octopus seizing a fish and a flower garden, they were made by Mik Cameron who lives in Lamu. It’s been done before, of course, but seldom with such freedom and joy.

Both Christmas and Re-Found put the accent on fun — and succeeded brilliantly.

A very Merry Christmas to you all!