Manjano winner,Florence Wangui’s interview with Frank Whalley

This article was written by Frank Whalley on December 7  2012.He gives us a deeper insight into the work of one Florence Wangui, who has since flourished in her career and was one of the big winners in this year’s Manjano exhibition.

Florence Muthanga

Florence Muthanga

Article:  Artist finds inspiration and models in the chicken run

Mother Hen by Florence Wangui exhibited at the GoDown centre in Nairobi. Photo/Frank Whalley

Mother Hen by Florence Wangui exhibited at the GoDown centre in Nairobi. Photo/Frank Whalley

Artists are a bunch of idle wastrels. When not drinking themselves into oblivion they spend their time ogling nudes on the pretext of painting them. Right? Wrong.

To be even a half-good artist requires relentless determination, endless hard work and a level of concentration that would outdo even the proverbial rocket scientist. Which is why, of course, art lives through generations while rockets go whoosh into the sea.

This dedication is exemplified by the work of one young artist yet to burst onto the regional scene. But believe me, Florence Wangui is on her way.

Wangui is a student of the painter Patrick Mukabi and she took up art only 11 months ago.

Since then she has reached a level of maturity that would do credit to a professional of long standing. Her skills have already been rewarded by the promise of a first solo show, at the city’s prestigious One-Off gallery.

So, how has Wangui got so far in 11 short months?

There is no magic involved; no short cut. She has done it by applying herself ruthlessly to the course in drawing devised by Mukabi.

Staring at 7am each day and often not finishing before 8pm, Wangui has drawn firstly cups (to study form and volume) and having got them right, moved on to bottles (to learn how to handle transparency) then tins and other shiny objects (reflections), followed by still-life and finally the human figure.

Unlike many of Mukabi’s pupils however, instead of following in her master’s brushstrokes by painting joyously plump market women, she found a subject she has made her own. Hens.

They belong to her mother with whom she lives in the city’s Jericho estate and are an ever present and presumably compliant and free subject. No model fees to pay save a handful of corn.

Wangui offers two large charcoal-on-paper drawings at the GoDown: Mother Hen (some 4ft by 3ft) and the even larger Preening at Noon (around 4ft by 6ft).

Each captures precisely the fierce, inquisitive eyes of the birds and describes beautifully their form, their plump weight and the density that lies beneath their fluff of feathers. The birds emerge from a fluster of charcoal dug deep into the surface; clearly a medium the artist relishes.
You can hear these hens scratch and croon.

In absorbing everything Mukabi has to teach about the technical side of art, Wangui has turned for her stylistic inspiration to Peterson Kamwathi and is now attempting to do for hens what he did for sheep — that sonorous building of tone on a skeleton of sound, incisive line.

Unlike Kamwathi’s large sheep — which deal with the place of modern weaponry in conflict and now can hardly be found, let alone bought, for love or money — Wangui’s hens lack a political edge, although they do add a level of interest and even dignity to birds dismissed by most of us as one cluck away from the table.

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