There are some very able artists who shun a high profile and prefer to work steadily on in their studios, undisturbed by the fuss and bother that can accompany a big name.
Putting their practice before prominence, they tend to slip under the radar.
One such painter is the excellent Lincoln Mwangi.
He combines a consistently professional level of formal skills with a creative ingenuity to produce series of drawings and paintings that both stir the imagination and excite.
Mwangi’s work was given one of its first public outings a few years ago at Willem Kevenar’s Attic Art Space in Nairobi and since then it has appeared mostly in mixed and group exhibitions.
But its quality always claims attention.
His paintings, for instance, are not as flashy and immediately accessible as those of, say, his studio colleague Boniface Maina, (who sells strongly but is too decorative for my taste, at least) yet they hold the eye, conjuring mystery through layers of interest.
Currently Mwangi is painting a series of women — white on black, red or blue canvases — casually dressed or enfolded in flowing drapery, but always with their heads swathed in cloth (a device also favoured by the photographer Margaret Ngigi).
They speak of Everywoman… superficially anonymous, yet individually powerful.
An artist of integrity and conviction, Mwangi works quietly on in his studio; a room in the adjoining houses that are the base of the Brush Tu collective in Nairobi’s Buru Buru estate.
Founded in 2013, a recent open day attracted increased interest and visitors are always welcomed, although it is wise in these stricken times to contact the studios first ([email protected]) to ensure artists will be free to discuss their practice.
Brush Tu founder member Michael Musyoka no longer has his studio in the group’s base on Ol Leleshwa Road, but instead works from his home nearby. In the space that once was his studio and is now a storeroom can be found two paintings from the series shown in his exhibition Time and Other Constructs II at the One Off Art Gallery last September.
In bold, bright colours and featuring a fine finish, they dealt with the fate of those of us who flout the social niceties and end up like cheerfully striped Michelin Men tumbling in a merry huddle down through the gates of Hell
Others from his Time Servant series kneel in penitence, shot through with mediaeval arrows and it is one of those explicit and unsettling paintings that caught the eye there.
Another member of Brush Tu who has moved from the studio to home, is Sebawali Sio, a thoughtful painter and glass worker who examines us through imaginary portrait studies mysteriously swathed in veils of colour. There were five of them on show, seemingly weighing us up from their vantage point on the wall. The watchers watched, they were drawn with such confidence I suspect they found us wanting.
Offering a change of pace was the sculptor Boniface Kimani, a member of Brush Tu for around three years, whose finely fashioned life-size guitarist dominated a corner of the studio yard. Bent over his instrument the figure was made from hundreds of small wooden offcuts.
Sculpture by Moira Bushkimani included a recent group of her masks, modelled on her own face and mounted on mesh heads. Decorated with flowing wires and small glass beads they represent variously fire, air and water and, in one case, in which the mask emerges from the mouth of a cane fishing trap, the lightness of the spirit world.
Seen together the four masks assume a greater importance than their individual presences admit and speak with a united and elemental grandeur.
Also by Bushkimani and part of a developing investigation of interlocked spaces are two steel sculptures each made from the rims of four bicycle wheels. In each piece, one rim forms the base and the other three rise from it, leaning together like the sides of a pyramid. The pieces are similar but the scale is different.
The sculptures, of circles held in opposing tensions defined by the open rims, are suspended from a roof beam, tilted on their axes, offering constantly changing definitions of spaces that are both contained yet open.
These two pieces and in particular the larger one with its more satisfying proportions were for me the most interesting and provocative works on show, suggesting the endlessly sliding realities that parallel our own daily lives.