Willie Wambugu’s drawings at Kuona Gallery

At last, I’ve come back to my blog to try to catch up on ‘archiving’ all or most of my writings for the Nation Media Group http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Kuona-Trust-Gallery-plays-host-to-contemporary-Kenyan-art/-/1248928/1519018/-/13qn93s/-/index.html WILLIE WAMBUGU’S ‘SEATS OF POWER’ SHOW OPENS AT KUONA By Margaretta wa Gacheru SEPTEMBER 24, 2012 Recently returned from Brussels, Belgium, where his one-man exhibition entitled ‘Seats of Power’ did very well at the Roots Contemporary Gallery, William Wambugu (who’s known to most of his Kenyan friends as Willie) isn’t resting on his laurels. His pen and ink artworks will be on show from this evening (September 28th) at the tiny Kuona Trust Gallery. Kuona’s exhibition space is actually a perfect size in which to see Wambugu’s delicate and finely detailed drawings of African interiors, most of which were drawn in an A4 sketch book that he kept to himself for many months before showing it to the Italian gallery owner and curator Samantha Ripa di Meana. The unassuming and shy Wambugu approached Ripa di Meana after a talk she gave on contemporary Russian and Chinese art at Kuona Trust one Tuesday afternoon early last year. She wasn’t enthusiastic about his oil paintings but his drawings intrigued her. Thus, a friendship was struck in which the curator-art collector became a mentor to the young Kenyan artist who had recently shifted from the GoDown to a studio space at Kuona in Hurlingham. As a mentor, Ripa di Means shared a spate of art books and materials with the Kenya Polytechnic graduate (Class of 2005) who only drew in his spare time before deciding not to be an IT specialist but a visual artist instead. Self-taught apart from an apprenticeship with matatu artists and his attendance in various art workshops at both Kuona and the GoDown, Wambugu had asked her not for money or materials but rather he wanted advice on how to develop his art. And since their initial meeting, she has helped him to do just that. She’s helped him to mount several solo exhibitions, one of which was held at the Belgian ambassador’s residence entitled The Anthropology of Tools. It featured a series of black and white drawings of locally-made hand tools, including wheelbarrows and rakes, machetes and njembes. Another was held in her spacious garage in Westlands which she transformed into a gallery that she now calls Roots Space Nairobi. Entitled Walks of Life, that second exhibition was all about shoes, both ones that he personally owns and ones Ripa di Meana had acquired while living in China with her Russian husband and children. Wambugu’s most recent exhibition, which ran from June through July in the Brussels art gallery, is what will be replicated at Kuona, excluding only the drawings that were sold overseas. The show itself will again be called Seats of Power and will feature mainly his meticulous drawings of African interiors including many of the items you typically find in most middle class Kenyan homes, such as comfortable seats and sofas covered in embroidery, coffee tables, brooms, shoes and other necessities of everyday life. “What I appreciate about William is the way he takes a topic [such as hand tools, shoes and seats]and interrogates it in detail,” said Ripa di Meana who had exhibited several of Wambugu’s drawings earlier this year in a group exhibition held at her home featuring works by other Kenya artists, including performance artist Ato Malinda, photographer James Muriuki, and the painter Paul Onditi. But the Brussels exhibition was devoted exclusively to Wambugu’s art, some of which was drawn on his A4 local paper, some on cardboard, and the rest designed on special art paper given to him by Ripa di Meana that came from France, India and China. She didn’t give him the hand-made papers right away. But one of the first things that impressed her about Wambugu, apart from his sincerity and obvious desire to grow as an artist, was his creative use to the cardboard boxes she initially gave him to work with. They were cleverly transformed into three-dimensional versions of the drawings of Kenyan interiors that he first showed her from his sketch book. Those same boxes were part of a small exhibition that she organized at Le Rustique restaurant shortly before they went off to Brussels in June. At least one of them will be in the Kuona show. Wambugu’s solo exhibition at Kuona Trust will be on for three weeks. Prices of his drawing range from KSh10,000 to KSh130,000. His creatively constructed 3-D cardboard box interiors are KSh150,000 .

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