ART REVIEW: When restraint is key to discovery
6 months ago, 15 June 17:02
Less is more. Usually. And certainly this maxim often applies to art where an economy of statement allows us to consider the artist’s fundamental proposition.
So, Henri Matisse with his certain, spare line; and the American Ellsworth Kelly, best known for his huge saturated colour fields, whose line drawings of plants make a bare white room appear baroque.
So too Timothy Brooke, currently showing at the One-Off in Nairobi and , with his increasingly reductive paintings and drawings of our rapidly vanishing natural world. The fewer brushstrokes he uses, the more incisive his paintings become.
And now, so also Anne Mwiti, a painter whose frequent changes of style have occasionally bewildered gallery-goers, who have nevertheless continued to admire her energy and commitment.
From studies of nudes, portraits, faux-naïve children’s painting through to abstracts (one of which on the theme of world peace brought her an international award) Mwiti has been exhibiting for some eight years, starting at the now defunct Watatu Gallery in the Nairobi CBD.
It has been fascinating to see her work develop to the point that, in a current exhibition, she is presenting what could prove to be a mature and consistent style that may well lead her into new discoveries about her subjects and, as with all artists, about herself.
All art is a self-portrait, could well be today’s Maxim No 2.
A level of skill has always been there — Mwiti has been, after all, since 1997, a lecturer in fine art at Kenyatta University — but recently that basic ability in handling drawing, composition and colour has been tied to an emerging interest in landscape and the self contained new reality that paint can produce.
By that I mean that a good painting, as well as managing to astonish, disturb, seduce and finally convince (to use Lucien Freud’s memorable phrase — Maxim No 3?), becomes separately coherent in its own right, adding more to our understanding of its subject than any description, no matter how superficially accurate that might be.
There are 40 paintings in Mwiti’s show Different Strokes (at the Polka Dot Art Gallery in Karen from this week to July 15). Around half are landscapes of which a dozen hit that spot.
It is perhaps surprising that it is only now that Mwiti is turning to landscapes. She is after all a country girl, brought up on a coffee farm in Central Meru (in Nturioru village, for the record).
It is not a coincidence that the best of her current paintings are her most recent, completed this year and in some cases almost still wet on the canvas as they were hung.
Neither is it a coincidence that the most successful of them all are also the most overtly restrained — restrained and by far the most telling.
Star of the show, for me, is the extended lateral landscape made one misty morning, Nairobi National Park I.
A watery sun breaks through feathery clouds that a float on a pale blue sky… but below the mood is yet to change as the lake lies like a ...
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