Artist Erick Muriithi, aka Stickky, says art is about telling stories and educating ourselves. His recent exhibition certainly had many stories to tell.
Watu, Viatu na Mavazi 2 (Swahili for People, Shoes and Clothes 2) was a solo exhibition at the Nairobi National Museum last month, featuring drawings from Stickky’s childhood.
Lady in Red, the cover image for the exhibition, shows a woman seated wearing a ruffled red vintage dress. She has long toned arms, a golden halo and looking pensively over her shoulder.
His motivation for this piece was the evolution of fashion, "art from the Renaissance and also modernism, taking that golden age into a modern era".
The pictures cover a range of themes. "It pays to be multi-dimensional, to become good at other things," he said.
I first got to know Stickky’s work from his realistic paintings of sneakers, an interest that goes back to 2010. It is still a subject he pursues as the footwear has evolved to include lace-up boots and flowers growing out of the socks of the wearer.
He was nicknamed Stickky when in college because he enjoyed extra-curricular activities like football, athletics, dance, drama and church events.
"One morning at breakfast a friend said to me, ‘you stick everywhere'. Someone heard sticky and the name stuck."
He started painting professionally at the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi as a student of fine artist Patrick Mukabi, who still inspires him today. The exhibition Viatu na Mavazi featured a set of charcoal drawings on recycled brown paper. Drawing with charcoal is one of the first techniques that Stickky learned under Mukabi.
"Charcoal teaches you how to draw and the creation of art because you have to draw then rub, draw then rub," said Stickky. "Charcoal also teaches you patience and how to create layers."
He now works at a studio in Karen Village, a media, arts and innovation centre in Nairobi. In his younger days, Stickky liked skateboarding, and illustrations of the sport sometimes appear in his portfolio.
He later took an interest in painting baggy multicoloured sweaters, a fashion trend of the 1990s he grew up with. The faces in his Graffiti Characters series and paintings of breakdancing youngsters are influenced by hip-hop, Stickky’s favourite music genre.
I found his monochrome charcoal drawings the most appealing. Among those on show was, naturally, a pair of sneakers. Try a Little Tenderness has a child’s hand holding on to one finger of its mother’s hand.
"In life you need a helping hand, a guiding hand. There are more experienced people who come before us," he said of the drawing.
His childhood memories are captured in the Lifundo football series. In one picture, a boy plays football with a home-made ball.
"We played bare foot and made footballs from waste papers and nylon because that was all we had," he said of his younger days.
The gnarled, bony feet in another drawing seem to have walked a life of hard living. Continuing in the study of feet, is a piece titled The Painful Process of Art. It shows a ballerina’s feet, with one shoeless foot bandaged in various places. The drawing is a testament to the process of creating which is both beautiful and a struggle.
He says that the process of art comes from guilt, difficult backgrounds and negative energy that makes us better people so it is always intentional.